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Iran Security Forces Disperse Gathering To Mark 32nd Anniversary Of Mass Executions

Activists opposing the government of Iran place the images of alleged victims of state-sponsored executions of political prisoners in 1988 in Iran, on the East Front of the US Capitol in Washington, September 12, 2019

Friday August 28 marked the 32nd anniversary of the mass execution of political prisoners in Iran.

Family members of some of those killed in the 1988 massacre got together at a derelict graveyard in Tehran to pay tribute to their lost loved ones.

None of them knew where their loved ones were buried or whether they were buried in this graveyard, Khavaran, or probably somewhere else.

Some of those who survived the massacre in prisons in Tehran and many other cities have published articles and books on how the Islamic Republic killed thousands of Marxist and Mojahedin-e Khalq prisoners many of whom had already served the long sentences handed to them by revolutionary courts.

Family members at the gathering at Khavaran on Friday sang revolutionary songs and battle hymns that reminded them of their children and their political preoccupations.

Within an hour, the Islamic Republic's security forces stormed the graveyard and dispersed the crowd.

Khavaran is the venue of several shallow mass graves where young prisoners were buried in the Summer of 1988. The executions were ordered by the Islamic Republic's founder and first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini and endorsed by a "death commission" comprised of clerics close to the ayatollah, including Judge Hossein Ali Nayeri, Prosecutor Morteza Eshraqi, former Intelligence Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi and current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi.

The Islamic Republic officials tried to keep the extent of the massacre secret for years, and it did remain secret as both rival regime factions, the reformists and hardliners, were involved in them.

Various political groups whose members have been executed have given differing figures about the number of those killed. Some independent estimates say up to 5,000 prisoners who were members of Mojahedin-e Khalq [MeK] and Marxist groups such as Fedayeen Khalq and the Communist Tudeh Party, as well as many other groups were summarily executed.

It is still not clear where most of the victims have been buried. During the past decades, there have been reports about the demolishing of some of those mass graves in various cities. Some of the graves were so shallow that eyewitnesses say they have seen parts of the remains while passing by.

As far as government-controlled media in Iran are concerned, the massacre has never happened. It was former deputy supreme leader Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri who for the first time openly talked about the massacre in an interview which was published in foreign-based media years after Montazeri was removed from his post, put under house arrest and passed away.

Montazeri called the massacre "a crime" and condemned Khomeini's order about the execution of "hypocrites who insist on their political position."

Other officials mainly denied the reports about the massacre or simply turned a blind eye to it. A recent article by Ahmad Batebi for radio Farda questioned former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi's silence about the matter and his justification for his silence. Mousavi who challenged the regime after he was declared the loser in the 2009 presidential elections, is regarded as an opposition leader now, He has been under house arrest since 2011.

Batebi wrote: "The years 1981-1989 when Mousavi was the Prime Minister mark one of the darkest periods in man's history as far as violations of human rights are concerned. Documents released by the UN and human rights watchdogs show that Mousavi and the offices he controlled ignored the international community and human rights organizations in the same way that the Islamic Republic does today. Not only individuals and offices working under Mousavi as Prime Minister did not protest what was going on, but they did their best to conceal the violation of human rights in Iran."

Many Iranians on social media have questioned Mousavi's credentials as opposition leader, demanding he ends his silence about the 1988 killings.

The Majles Speaker at the time, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Chief Justice Ayatollah Abdolkarim Mouisavi Ardabili defended the executions. Iran's current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who was the Islamic Republic's President at the time, said in an interview with Resalat newspaper in December 1988 that those who were executed "deserved" the death sentence.

In a 2018 report on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the executions, Amnesty International said that it had sent 16 immediate action requests to Iranian officials to stop the executions but the Islamic Republic officials never replied to those letters.

Some 32 years after the executions, not only the Islamic Republic officials refuse to let the families know about the whereabouts of their loved ones' graves, but on various occasions security officials have threatened and harassed family members for demanding information about the burial sites.