The histories of political prisoners in the IRI is too vast a subject to be even touched in this article. In this article I have referred to some “major” events and their aftermaths, I need to give a very brief description of these events for the readers who do not have the required background information.
Transition to an Islamic regime (February 1979 to June 1981): In February 1979 the Shah’s regime was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution. Freedom for all political prisoners was one of its central demands. In the first 30 months of the IRI’s succession to power, which came to be known as “baharé azadi” (Spring of Freedom), the suppression was not well organized and systematic but was widespread and harsh against the Shah’s regime officers and officials and minorities. Immediately after the victory of the revolution, hundreds of high-ranking old regime officers and officials were arrested. On February 13, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini released an order for the establishment of the revolutionary tribunal. He appointed 3 shari’ah judges and directed them to follow the shari’ah law.
In the first 30 months of IRI rule, 757 were executed without due process. Many others were purged from public and private workplaces. The properties and businesses of collaborators with the old regime were confiscated. At the same time the IRI forces arrested, exiled and executed dozens of political activists who belonged to ethnic minorities. The IRI was not able to find an acceptable solution to the long-lasting conflicts that had existed (and continue to exist) in areas populated by ethnic minorities. As a result, armed conflicts erupted shortly after the victory of the revolution.
In Tehran and other cities, some of the political activists were arrested and state sponsored paramilitary forces killed dozens of political opponents. The suppression of religious minorities, specifically Bahá’ís, started just after the victory of the revolution. Ali-Akbar Khursandi, was the first Bahá’í who executed in Tehran on April 12, 1979.
In this period, moderate Islamists groups and figures, such as nehzat azadi Iran (Iran’s freedom movement) which was led by Mehdi Bazargan, the appointed provisional prime minister after the revolution, and Abolhassan Banisadr (the first elected president) were forced out of government. It was a complete triumph for the hardliner clerics and nirohay-e khat imam (followers of imam).
Crushing opposition groups (June 1981 to June 1989): From June 1981, the IRI brutally and systematically suppressed all opposition groups and civil society institutions. In June 1981, the regime restricted peaceful protests and political participation. On the June20, 1981, the IRI initiated mass executions by killing Saeed Soltanpour (a well-known poet and member of Iranian Writers Association and an opposition party) and nine other political activists in Evin Prison. Later in June 1981, Mojahedin Khalegh Iran (MEK) and several leftist groups, in response to the IRI oppression, started an armed struggle.
Through 1981–82 thousands of young boys and girls were executed because of their political beliefs and activities. In the few months after June 1981, the names of the victims were published in the newspapers. In most cases, the bodies of the victims were not returned to their families. During the same period, tens of thousands were arrested, tortured and sentenced to prison terms. Many others were purged from their workplace, universities and schools. Tens of thousands more were forced into exile and many of them continued their political activities outside Iran.
On July 18, 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini accepted the UN Security Council’s resolution 598 (the resolution passed on January 16, 1987 and called for an immediate ceasefire between the IRI and Iraq; UN, 1987), because of the disadvantage that Iran had in the later years of the war. and fear of conflict with US forces in the Persian Gulf. Ayatollah Khomeini compared accepting the resolution to “taking poison.” On July 25, 1988, Mojahedin began an offensive at the west of Iran. The offence was defeated in three days by the IRI forces.
On July 27, 1988, two days after the attack by the Mojahedin, Ayatollah Khomeini issued an order for the massacre of the political prisoners. Ayatollah Montazeri, the then deputy leader, was the only official opposed to the order. Around 4,000 political prisoners were murdered in less than six weeks across the country. After the massacre, the IRI released most of the survivors.
From 1981 until Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in June 1989, nirohay-e khat imam had the upper hand in all branches of the government, because of Khomeini’s strong support. During this period, nirohay-e khat imam was actively organized and participated in the brutal suppression of the opposition groups.
State assassination (1989–1998): Ali Khamenei, the president from 1981, was selected as the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini. At the same time, Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the parliamentary speaker form 1980, was elected as president. Under the leadership of Khamenei and with the support of Rafsanjani, hardliners were appointed to high positions in the judicial system, the military and security forces. During this period, state sponsored terrorism became one of the main policies of suppression by the IRI and the security forces assassinated tens of political activists and intellectuals inside and outside Iran.
One hundred and sixty-two case of successful assassinations outside Iran have been recorded by IHRDC, most of them in neighboring countries. In most cases the murderers were not identified. However, in a few cases in Europe, the local and international police were able to find evidence showing the involvement of Iran’s agents in the assassinations (For example the case of the assassination of Kazem Rajavi in Geneva and Shapour Bakhtiar in Paris). The most high-profile case was the assassination of the leaders of DPIK and Nouri Dehkordi, in the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin, on September 17, 1992. Some of the assassins were arrested. The trial of the accused started on 1994 in a Berlin court and reached its verdict in April 1997. The court’s verdict noted that murders of the opposition figures were authorized by the Islamic Republic’s powerful Special Affairs Committee, which at the time of the Mykonos murders was headed by Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader) and included Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (President), Ali Fallahian (Minister of Intelligence) and Ali Akbar Velayati (Minister of Foreign Affairs). An arrest warrant was issued for Ali Fallahian who was in charge of the operation by the Special Affairs Committee. Several Iranian and Lebanese citizens were convicted by the court and sentenced to long-term imprisonment.
After the selection of Khamenei as the Supreme Leader and Hashemi Rafsanjani as the president in 1989, nirohay-e khat imam lost their high-ranking positions in all government branches. They regrouped and revised their thinking, apparently, in favor of democracy. In May 23, 1997, Mohammad Khatami, the candidate of nirohay-e khat imam (reformists), was elected as president in a landslide victory. His agenda was to enforce the forgotten chapter of the Islamic Republic Constitution (that is, chapter three of the constitution, which defines “the rights of the people”) and to support and promote a civil society. The election result raised the hopes of citizens especially the fast-growing middle class, university students and intellectuals that significant reform would be possible. This victory was a sign of a major change in the attitude of the Iranian population toward socio-political issues and human rights after a long period of neutrality. The hardliners were not happy with the changes. They tried hard to limit the impact of Khatami’s victory.
After the victory of Khatami, the security forces continued their policy of assassination of the opposition figures and intellectuals inside Iran. In the autumn of 1998, the security forces murdered five Iranian intellectuals and political activists in Tehran (the case became known as the chain political killings). Khatami appointed an investigation committee and the outcome of the investigation showed that the ministry of intelligence was responsible for the killings. However, the committee failed to reveal the name of those that had ordered the killings. For about a year, the case was at the center of public and media attention.
In this period there was no active presence of any opposition inside of Iran. The moderate Islamists and secular intellectuals were under continuous threat by the security forces. Dozens of intellectuals and political activists were murdered by the security forces. However, after the victory of Khatami, they were able to act as semi-legal organizations. The oppositions outside of Iran also were under continuous threat by the security forces.
Re-emerging resistance (1998–to date): the main characteristic of this period is the presence of many city dwellers especially the growing middle class, students and intellectuals engaged in the social and political activities. The first sign of this presence in the political scene was the landslide victory of Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 presidential election. The social forces at work were women, students, workers, environmentalists and other social movements groups. The hardliners wanted to control these forces and it was not possible without a mass arrest of activists. The hardliners first began by crushing the student uprising in July 1999. A few months later, they closed many of the pro-reform newspapers in order to shut down the voices for change. At the same time, many social and political activists were arrested and sentenced to prison terms.
Nirohay-e khat imam (reformists) was not ready and willing to organize and mobilize their supporters to force the hardliners to respect the people’s rights and rule of law. Therefore, they lost their public supports, and as a result they were defeated in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2004 and 2005 respectively.
After the June 2009 disputed presidential election, the peaceful protest by the supporters of Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karobi, the candidate of Nirohay-e khat imam (reformists), was brutally crushed by the military and paramilitary forces. The number of casualty is unknown. Opposition sources claim dozens of casualties. They also have claimed that about 20,000 protesters have been arrested since the June 2009 election.
- Ervand Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran 124 (1999)
- The term sharia is derived from the verb shari’a, which is a system of divine law, belief, or practice that shapes all of life. It applies to economics, politics, and society.
- Sadegh Khalkhali,. Khaterat Ayatollah Khalkhali, Avalin Hakem Shar-e Dadgahay-e Enghelab (Farsi) Ayatollah Khalkhali Memoir, First Revolutionary Courts Sharia Judge 290 (2000)
- Ervand Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran 124 (1999)
- Many of the central figures of the old regime before the victory of the revolution liquidated their wealth and transferred it to foreign accounts.
- Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Diary from March 1981 to March 1985. 1999
- Several armed groups such as the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (a moderate political party and member of international socialists), Komala Party–Iranian Kurdistan (a radical left political party) and Fedaiyan participated in early armed conflicts.
- Parviz Osia, Zendan Tohidi, Zendan Qasr dar Bahar Azadi (Farsi) Tohidi Prison, Qasr Prison in the Spring of Freedom 225 (1989)
- Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, A Faith Denied: The Prosecution of Bahais in Iran 27 (2006) http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3149-a-faith-denied-the-persecution-of-the-baha-is-of-iran.html (Last visited Feb 27, 2018)
- Ervand Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran 130 (1999)
- In the few months after June 1981, the names of the victims were published in the newspapers (Rusta, 2008: 1–209).
- Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, (2010)
- Ervand Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran 169 (1999)
- The schedule for the visits to prisoners in Tehran was published in the newspaper (Baradaran, 2000: 51).
- The Iranian’s decision resulted from an accumulation of factors: The inability of the Iranian military to overcome losses suffered during the failed attack on Basra at the end of 1986; the Iraqi advantage in the tanker war, especially after the U.S. entry into the [Persian] Gulf; the demoralizing impact of Iraqi attacks on civilian targets during the war of the cities; the fear in the Iranian army that Iraq would again use chemical weapons; the destruction of the Iranian navy; the recent defeats of the Iranian army at Fao, Shalamche, Majnoon, and Dehloran; and the nearly ten-to-one advantage that Iraq now had in battle tanks (Hume, 1994: 168).
- The real number of casualties is unknown, Mojahedin declared that the number of casualties were 1304 (http://www.mojahedin.org/pages/decorumDetails.aspx?DecorumId=660), Saeed Shahsavandi a prominent former member of the Mojahedin estimates the casualties to be around 1750 (http://www.nejatngo.org/Fa/post.aspx?id=6437) and a governmental website estimates that they exceeded 2000 (http://www.sajed.ir/pe/content/view/75/318/).
- Kaveh Shahrooz, With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor: A Preliminary Report on the 1988 Massacre of Iran’s Political Prisoners, Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 20, 234 (2007)
- Ayatollah Montazeri became aware of the order and wrote two letters to Ayatollah Khomeini on July 31 (four days after Ayatollah Khomeini issued his order) and August 4 (Montazeri, 2000: 344). In his letter of July 4, 1988, he argued that the execution of the captured Mojahedin members [in the recent military offence by Mojahedin in the west] was justifiable but the execution of the prisoners who were tried previously by the revolutionary tribunals could not be justified (Montazeri, 2000: 520). The correspondence was kept secret for about 8 months and was revealed by unknown sources. Montazeri claimed the publication of the letters is part of the conspiracy to dismiss him from being the successor of Khomeini.
- Mehdi Aslani, Kalagh va Gol-e Sorkh (Farsi) The Crow & The Red Roos 444 (2009)
- Mustafa Tajzadeh, 30 Khordad 60; Matn va hashiyeh (Farsi) June 21, 1981; Essence and Fringes, Cheshmandaz Magazine, 26 (2005), http://www.meisami.net/Title%20page%20%20from%2026.htm (Last visited Feb 27, 2018)
- Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, Deadly Fatwa: Iran’s 1988 Prison Massacre, (2009)
- See for example the interview of Cheshmandaz magazine (Mousavi Tabrizi, 2003) with Ayatollah Hussein Mousavi Tabrizi the revolutionary prosecutor in 1981–82 when thousands of the political opponents were executed based on the verdicts of the revolutionary tribunals.
- In the first decade of the IRI rule, the security and paramilitary forces used terrorism as a tool to suppress the opposition. But it was not the dominant suppression policy.
- Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, No Safe Haven: Iran’s Global Assassination Campaign, Appendix 1, (2008) http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3152-no-safe-haven-iran-s-global-assassination-campaign.html (Last visited Feb 28, 2018)
- Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, Murder at Mykonos: Anatomy of a Political Assassination, 2 (2007)
- Iranian Chamber Society, Islamic Republic of Iran constitution, http://www.iranchamber.com/government/laws/constitution.php.
- For example see, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2005/08/050801_pm-mv-khatami-profile.shtml.