In the summer of 1988 following a decree by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme Leader at the time, thousands, with some estimate as many as 30,000 political prisoners were executed in a matter of few months, the majority in the first few weeks. A crime against humanity that remained largely out of media limelight.
Iranian regime’s current leaders, including presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi and re-elected president Hassan Rouhani were complicit in those atrocities, especially Raisi who served as a prosecutor on one of the “death commissions” that dispensed execution orders.
Bodies were buried in mass graves throughout Iran without markers or notice of who these people were or why they died. Their existence only commemorated by their families and relatives.
Now comes reports that the Iranian regime is erasing even these unmarked graves from existence in a disturbing effort to hide the awful truth of these massacres.
The desecration of a mass grave site in Ahvaz, southern Iran that contains the remains of at least 44 people who were extrajudicially executed would destroy vital forensic evidence and scupper opportunities for justice for the mass prisoner killings that took place across the country in 1988, said human rights groups Amnesty International.
Photo and video evidence obtained by the NGO Justice for Iran and reviewed by Amnesty International shows bulldozers working on a construction project directly alongside the mass grave site at Ahvaz, as well as piles of dirt and construction debris surrounding the grave. Although the Iranian authorities have made no official announcements about Ahvaz, families learned through a construction worker that the plan is to ultimately raze the concrete block marking the grave site and build over the area.
“By attempting to destroy the mass grave in Ahvaz, the Iranian authorities appear to be embarking on a sinister and deliberate effort to destroy crucial evidence of their past crimes and deprive the families of the victims of the 1988 mass prisoner killings of their right to truth, justice and reparation. This is a shocking assault on justice that must be stopped immediately,” said Magdalena Mughrabi Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The action is akin to other mass murdering regimes that have attempted to erase the evidence of their crimes. It is no different than the Nazis burning down a concentration camp or a Serbian army unit digging up bodies from a mass grave to move them.
“For years the authorities have inflicted unbearable suffering on the families of the victims of the 1988 extrajudicial executions. They have denied them the right to give their loved ones a dignified burial and forced them to walk through piles of rubbish to visit their dead. Now they are planning to destroy their final resting place and trying to obliterate their memory from history,” said Shadi Sadr, the Executive Director of Justice for Iran.
According to Amnesty International, mass graves are crime scenes that require professional forensic expertise to undertake exhumations and ensure preservation of evidence and accurate identification of bodies. By desecrating the site, the authorities will be destroying vital evidence that could one day be used to shed light on the number and identity of those killed in state custody.
The Ahvaz mass grave is located on a barren piece of land 3km east of Behesht Abad Cemetery. It is believed to contain the bodies of dozens of people who were among several thousand political prisoners killed in a wave of extrajudicial executions across Iran in the summer of 1988. The prisoners were rounded up and forcibly disappeared before being killed in secret. Their bodies were then dumped into freshly dug trenches overnight.
The regime plan is to widen a roadway near the grave site and eventually raze the concrete block sitting on top of it in favor of a green space or even a commercial development. The idea the regime would allow construction of an office building built on top of a mass grave site shows the mullahs disregard for these people who were viewed as enemies of the Islamic revolution.
This is not the only mass grave from the mass killings of 1988 at risk of destruction. Justice for Iran has learned of apparent efforts to tamper with another site in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi province, where up to 170 political prisoners are believed to be buried.
Many of the prisoners in 1988 that were rounded up and executed were either members of the dissident group, the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), or suspected of being members. Even if a prisoner had no affiliation with the dissident group, regime officials would tag the prisoner with an association to expedite their execution.
The vast majority of those killed had already spent years in prison, often for peacefully exercising their rights by distributing newspapers and leaflets, taking part in peaceful anti-government demonstrations, or having real or perceived affiliations with various political opposition groups. Some had already completed their sentences but had not been released because they refused to “repent”.
To date, no Iranian officials have been investigated and brought to justice for the extrajudicial executions. Some of the alleged perpetrators continue to hold political office or other influential positions, including in the judiciary, according to Amnesty International.