Iran Human RightsAs Thousands of Iranian Prisoners Were Executed in the...

As Thousands of Iranian Prisoners Were Executed in the 1988 Massacre, the World Remained Silent


With the trial of former Iranian prison official Hamid Noury still ongoing in Sweden, proceedings were briefly expedited to Albania in order to hear the testimonies from survivors of the 1988 massacre in Iran, where over 30,000 political prisoners were sentenced to death for being supporters of the Iranian Resistance group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Noury was arrested by Swedish authorities in 2019, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, due to his involvement in the massacre in the summer of 1988 when he was a prison official in Gohardasht prison in Iran.

Former political prisoner Mohammad Zand, who gave his testimony during the trial said, “I was told that I would be the first person to testify in Albania. So, I went to the District Court in Durres. When I first entered the hall, I suddenly recalled those dreadful days in the 1980s, mainly the summer of 1988, when my friends were executed rapidly.”

Mohammad Zand was a student in 1981 when he was arrested for supporting the MEK, which was in its infancy at the time. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while his brother Reza, who had been arrested around the same time on the same charges, was sentenced to 10 years. While Mohammad walked free at the end of his sentence, Reza became one of the victims of the 1988 massacre who were suddenly given death sentences in response to a fatwa issued by then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini.

Zand said, “When it was my turn to stand before the death commission, I asked its four members why they had executed my brother even though the criminal court had already assigned him a lesser sentence. I was given no answer, but it later became clear that the very purpose of the death commission was to eliminate anyone whom they believed was still committed to the democratic principles of the MEK.”

Zand believed that his brother was aware of his fate, as Reza handed over his personal belongings to him and conveyed the notion that they would not see each other again. He also expressed the same notion to their mother during her last visit to the prison to see both of her sons.

Before the atrocities began to take place, prisoners reportedly became suspicious of something about to happen when newspapers stopped being delivered and televisions were removed from cells. So much so that ahead of the prison is locked down, prisoners felt the need to inform their friends and family members of their suspicions to get the message to the outside world.

Zand said, “It is, therefore, deeply upsetting to know that no one took action to stop it. Iran’s own activist community could not have done much on their own, but parts of that community reached out to their friends and families within the Iranian diaspora and urged them to raise the alarm about an emerging crime against humanity.”

When the Iranian Resistance took evidence of the massacre to Western powers, their concerns were ignored by those governments, who were more focused on appeasing the Iranian regime to keep friendly relations. Sadly, this strategy still continues to this day while the regime continues to cover up its brutal crimes against humanity.

In June of this year, the extent of their cover-up came to a head when the sham election of Ebrahim Raisi was orchestrated by top officials in the regime. Raisi was one of the worst perpetrators of the 1988 massacre, being one of four officials who sat on the Tehran ‘Death Commission’, sentencing thousands of prisoners to their deaths.

Zand said, “Western powers’ refusal to condemn Raisi’s particular role in the 1988 massacre represents a whole new dimension of their betrayal of shared humanitarian principles. Fortunately, this collective inaction is counterbalanced somewhat by the efforts of rights groups like Amnesty, and especially by the various lawmakers and the single European government that has actually committed to a reversal of longstanding policies of neglect.”

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