In the summer of 1988, Iran executed thousands of its opponents who were serving their sentences behind bars.
At the time, Mir Hossein Mousavi was at the helm of the government as the Prime Minister, with Mousavi and his supporters insisting that he was unaware of the extrajudicial mass executions.
Recently, Amnesty International (AI) presented documents that say otherwise.
Amnesty International's findings on Mousavi and his knowledge of the 1988 massacre were followed by several activists' statement, accusing AI of "distorting" the facts and highlighting Mousavi's diminished role in the mass executions with "unknown motives."
Mousavi, 78, is currently under house arrest for refusing defeat in the 2009 presidential election, which officially named the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the winner.
Responding to the activists' statement in Mousavi's defense, hundreds of the relatives of the 1988 massacre's victims have stepped forward, demanding justice. In a statement issued on Sunday, October 4, they explicitly called for Mousavi and other figures linked to the Islamic establishment to disclose what they know about the tragedy.
Mousavi and many others have experienced the Islamic Republic's persecution and suffered from human rights violations in Iran, the victims' relatives said in their statement, before asking, "why don't they present all their information on the massacre to the society and bereaved families?"
"Those directly responsible for the crime, as well as those who have remained silent either out of personal interests or distorting and covering-up the truth must be held accountable to the victims' families and society as a whole," they added, also asserting that remaining silent paves the way for more similar crimes.
Additionally, the victims' relatives and survivors of the mass executions blasted Mousavi's supporters for "distorting the crimes' undeniable reality.
Earlier, on September 22, 60 political activists issued a statement stressing that Mousavi was indeed unaware of the executions.
While condemning the mass executions as "horrendous crime," the statement, signed by a few survivors of the 1988 massacre, claimed that Iran's section of Amnesty International's stance on the massacre hides the real perpetrators and their masters in the shadows. At the same time, AI elevates Mousavi's role, presenting him as the primary culprit, while no evidence has been discovered against him.
Based on some estimates, in the summer of 1988, about 5,000 political prisoners belonging to the pro-Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), as well as other leftist groups such as the Fadaiyan Khalq and the pro-Soviet Union Tudeh Party, were executed in Iranian prisons on direct orders of the Islamic Republic founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Several clerics carried out the octogenarian Ayatollah's order, later branded as the "Death Committee."
On September 9, AI issued a public statement based on a Q&A about the possibility of Mousavi's awareness of the massacres in 1988, while he was serving as Prime Minister.
In its statement, AI said it had "serious concerns" that Mousavi and his government were made aware of the first wave of killings in August 1988 and pursued an official strategy of "denial and distortion" in the aftermath, and then for years to come. According to international law, this could make them liable for prosecution.
"In the aftermath of the prison massacres of 1988," Amnesty's new report states, "the failure of top government officials to investigate and reveal the truth did not just entrench impunity."
"It also facilitated the ongoing commission of the crime of enforced disappearance against the families of those killed, which continues three decades later on a widespread and systematic basis and constitutes a crime against humanity."
The statement came about three weeks after one of AI's researchers, Raha Bahraini, tweeted a picture of the organization's August 16, 1988 statement about the mass executions addressed to the then chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, Ayatollah Abdol Karim Mousavi Ardabili, and the then Minister of Justice, Hassan Habibi. As Bahraini noted, "the policy of the Mousavi government's foreign ministry was a denial."
Earlier, in the heat of the 2009 presidential election, responding to a question about the 1988 executions, Mousavi claimed that "I had no role in it, and not aware of it."
The 1988 executions were ordered by the Islamic Republic's founder and first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and endorsed by the "death committee" comprised of clerics close to the octogenarian Ayatollah, including Judge Hossein Ali Nayeri, Prosecutor Morteza Eshraqi, the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence, Mostafa Pourmohammadi and current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi.
Iranian officials tried to keep the extent of the massacre secret for years, and succeeded, as both rival regime factions, the reformists and hardliners, were both also involved.
The 1988 massacre was a dormant volcano until it erupted in an audio file in 2016, which recorded the members of the death committee meeting with Khomeini's deputy, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.
In the tape, Montazeri admonished the four committee members, appointed by Khomeini, that what they were doing was "the biggest crime committed by the Islamic Republic," which he said "would be condemned by the world."
Sharia Judge Hossein Ali Nayeri, Tehran Prosecutor Morteza Eshraqi, Deputy prosecutor Ebrahim Raeisi (Raisi - currently Iran's Judiciary Chief), and Intelligence Ministry Representative Mostafa Pourmohammadi were supposed to convey Ayatollah Montazeri's warning to Ayatollah Khomeini. Instead, they gave his son Ahmad the message, who insisted that "the executions must go ahead" as planned, Montazeri's son, Ahmad, disclosed last December.
In their statement, the survivors and victims' relatives also criticized the late Ayatollah Montazeri.
"Despite his bold opposition to the killing of political prisoners, he (Montazeri) sufficed to write two confidential letters to Ruhollah Khomeini," the signatories claimed, adding, "Why did he not inform the society, especially the families of the political prisoners who came to his office at least twice in August and September (1988) to seek help. He should have informed them about the mass executions so that they might be able to prevent the massacre of their loved ones. And why did he not visit Khomeini directly and in-person in Tehran to protest and prevent the massacre from continuing?"
In total, the signatories to the statement held almost all of the Islamic Republic officials, from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and even top officials of Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, responsible for the 1988 massacre.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's current Supreme Leader who held the presidency in 1988, told the Resalat newspaper at the time that those executed "deserved" it.