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Mass murder of 1988 in Iran: The Iranian killing fields

Opinion article by Bahman Aghai Diba

It was the end of Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and I was sent to Evin Prison for an indefinite time. The agent of the Intelligence Ministry who was escorting me to the prison let me lift my eye-cover and look around. He said: you are not going to leave this place alive, so have a look.

In those days, eye-cover was an essential part of the prison attire and no prisoner was allowed to be without it. The Evin Prison was a beautiful place in the foothills of Alborz Mountain in north Tehran. It had been turned into a security prison at the time of the Shah, but the Islamic Government had turned it into an independent unit. Evin had everything inside it: the revolutionary court, office of the revolutionary prosecutor, the solitary cells, public prison, and office of the Intelligence Ministry, women’ section, execution chambers and even the clergies’ ward.

I was thinking that the prison must be overcrowded because so many people were arrested those days and taken there. However, I came to know that the prison was almost empty. The few prisoners who had remained acted as zombies. They did not show any interest in talking to anyone. It took a while to know that the judicial and prison officials had killed several thousand prisoners within a few days. During the several years that I spent there, I came to know many parts of this issue little by little, but I was always surprised why the people and organizations outside of prison, inside and outside of Iran, did not at all talk about such a horrible mass murder. Later, when I had a meeting with the Representative of the UN Human Rights Commission (Dr. Galindo Pohl), as one of the prisoners who had been interviewed by the UN Delegation, I was surprised that even he did not ask me or any other prisoner (as far as I know after talking to the persons that I knew) about this case.

What happened was that at the end of Iran-Iraq war, while Iran had accepted the UNSC 598 Resolution to end the war, the forces of the MKOs (Mujahedin Khalgh Organization) were staging an attack from the Iraqi borders. The Iranian army was pushed back by Iraqis who were using chemical weapons on a large scale and the tactic of human waves of the Iranian military leaders had failed. Khomeini had “drunk the chalice of poison” and if the Americans did not stop the Iraqi army, Saddam intended to recapture all territories that he had got at the beginning of the 8 year war. Out of the fear of the collapse of the regime, the so called Founder of the Islamic Republic, Mullah Khomeini, ordered all prisoners in Evin and a couple of other security prisons (like Kachoi Prison in Karaj) to be asked one question: “do you insist on your positions?” Whoever answered in a way that indicated that he or she had not repented was sentenced to immediate execution.

The mass killings were conducted under the supervision of several persons: Lajevardi, the Head of Evin Prison, Mullah Naieri in the revolutionary court, Mullah Niazi in the office of the prosecutor. They were highly rewarded later: Lajevardi (the Bucher of Evin) became the Head of the Prisons Organization of Iran; Mullah Naieri became the Head of Center for Execution of Imam’s Instructions (this is one of the less known organizations in Iran which controls most of the properties of the wealthy people from the time of Shah that have been confiscated. It has huge assets all over Iran and it makes considerable contributions to Mullahs that follow the orders of the so-called Supreme Leader), and Mullah Niazi became the Head of the State Inspectorate Organization.

The Mullahs that were issuing death sentences were flying by helicopter from one prison to another every day and asking the only question that was on the table. I heard between 3 and 8 thousand prisoners were mass murdered. Most of the prisoners who were killed belonged to the MKO. The majority of the rest belonged to the leftist organizations like Paykar, the Fadayian (Minority), and Rahe-Kargar. I think the fact that the majority of the prisoners killed were MKOs and leftist groups played an important role in ignoring the Iranian version of the Killing Fields.

The prisoners that were chosen for the immediate execution were in different stages of their judicial proceedings or sentences. There were people who had served their sentences or those who had never been to a court. The executioners had a hard time handling the huge killing spree. The prisoners were executed by hanging in the chambers where tens of ropes were fastened to several pipes in the ceiling (I saw personally the inside of an execution chamber).

They also used firing squads. The murdered prisoners were carried by big trucks and dumped in a place outside of Tehran in an area called Khavaran, in the mass graves that were unmarked. The relatives of the prisoners were left uniformed and those who somehow came to know the reality were not allowed to have any public mourning ceremony.

Khavaran Cemetery

This issue is one of the most obvious cases of crimes against humanity, violation of human rights, and criminal acts of the Islamic regime of Iran and on the anniversary of the mass killings, it deserves to be mentioned extensively.

About the author: Bahman A Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas, is the author of several books and many articles. His latest books were published in 2011:


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