“Cut off from the world” — Survivor talks of Iran’s 1988 massacre

Reporting by PMOI/MEK

Iran, October 6, 2021—Thirty-three years after the summer 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in Iran the world is coming to understand the horrific details of this genocide. The mullahs’ regime in Iran had, and continues to this day, gone to great lengths to both eradicate the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which it considers the main threat to its rule since day one after the 1979 revolution.

Such measures include sending over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly affiliated to the PMOI/MEK, to the gallows in mere months, burying their bodies in mass graves across the country, and maintain a lid on these events to prevent any leakage of the massacre to the outside world. This demanded literally cutting the prisoners off from the outside world through all possible channels.

“I was a 15-year-old student when arrested in 1981 for the sole charge of supporting the MEK in school, distributing leaflets, and selling the MEK weekly publication. I was transferred to Evin Prison,” says Ms. Parvin Pouregbal, a survivor of the 1988 massacre. “During the massacre, I was being held at Hall #2 of Evin Prison. 95% of the over 30,000 executed were affiliated to the MEK. All of the female political prisoners executed in the 1988 massacre were affiliated to the MEK,” she adds.

“The executions began in July of 1988. At the time, we had no way of communicating with the outside. The only contact we had was through family visits, which occurred every month or biweekly. There were no telephones at all. In July even all visits were banned. All the prison doors were closed and there was no contact with the outside world. Even TV sets were rounded up from all the cells,” Ms. Pouregbal continues.

It was of the utmost importance for the regime to maintain the entire killing campaign in the dark knowing any such revelation could spark international condemnation and action. Tehran was fully aware of the important role being played by the MEK, especially as a member of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in shedding light on the truth inside Iran to the outside world. This has been especially critical regarding the regime’s human rights violations through the past four decades.

“Every day they would call prisoners from the wards and take them away. We noticed that none of them were coming back. We had no idea what was going on. Everyone who was in our ward and taken away for the massacre all had explicit prison sentences, not death sentences. Many of them were people who had survived the regime’s spree of executions back in 1981 and 1982 and received prison sentences,” she adds.

Hellbent on completely eradicating the PMOI/MEK, authorities were determined to execute all prisoners who had any such affiliations, even executing those who had finished serving their already unjust jail sentences. The mere fact that they were kept in prison, despite serving their terms, is a strong indication that the mullahs were preparing for the massacre for many years prior to the 1988 killings.

“Many had survived horrific tortures through the years, including atrocious physical torture. This included Ms. Azadeh Tabib and Ms. Ashraf Fadayi. They had already spent six or seven years in prison by that time. Some had completed their sentences. For example, Ms. Farahnaz Zarfchi and Ms. Mojgan Sorbi. Farahnaz Zarfchi didn’t even have a sentence anymore. Mojgan Sorbi had completed her sentence. Ashraf Fadayi had finished her sentence in 1988. Her family was waiting to see their daughter freed after seven years,” Ms. Pouregbal explains.

As the massacre went into full gear, it was also significantly important for the regime to keep the prisoners from establishing any contact with each other. The mullahs, with their senior ranks involved directly in the massacre, sought to isolate each political prisoner in order to force them into repenting and denying any further affiliation with the MEK. The objective was to destroy any motivation to defy the regime, succumbing to the regime’s demands, and literally crushing all signs of resistance in each and every individual.

“They took me on August 4, 1988, to face the Death Committee. When they called us in it was in the afternoon. We were several prisoners. When they took us to Ward 209, there was a room full of folders and cigarette smoke. There were several people sitting behind the desk. We recognized [current regime President Ebrahim] Raisi, Reyshahri, Eshraqi, Pourmohammadi, Zamani, the Intelligence Ministry spokesman. They wanted us to abandon our beliefs and call the MEK whatever they wanted us to call them. In principle, they wanted the prisoner to surrender. Anyone who did not surrender and did not do as they ordered was executed,” she continues.

“Of course, at the time, we did not know this. We only saw the comings and goings, to the extent that I saw it during the time I was outside the courtroom. Then, they took us to solitary confinement and then to the ‘Darbasteh’ section and from there to solitary confinement. After two months, in October or November, when a member of Azadeh Tabib’s family came to see their other daughter, she told them Azadeh had been executed and the prison guards just gave them her duffel bag. That was when we realized that of our friends were massacred and whoever was missing was executed,” Ms. Pouregbal says.

The horrendous extent of the 1988 massacre is further realized through the accounts of survivors explaining how prisons and wards were emptied following the dreadful genocide. Some halls, cells, and large sections of different prisons across the country were completely emptied, meaning hundreds of people from all walks of life were executed every 24 hours. And this gruesome killing spree continued for months on.

“At the time, in the women’s ward, as far as I could see and aside from the solitary confinement and ‘Darbasteh’ cells which we had no information of, there were three halls in Evin prison. In Hall #1 on the floor below all the women were executed, leaving no survivors. In Hall #3, which was the ward above us, all the MEK members were executed. Several non-religious prisoners survived. In our ward, two rooms were completely emptied. Each room contained 25-30 people. They took a lot of prisoners from other rooms. I can’t give an exact number, but I know that at least one ward and one hall were completely emptied. In another hall, half of the prisoners were taken away to be executed. And in our ward, at least two rooms were completely emptied, meaning all its prisoners were executed. In other rooms, for example, up to half of them were taken away to be executed,” Ms. Pouregbal explains.

“The prisoners who were there included arrested minors, students, university students, housewives with kids, mothers, and husbands and wives who were executed together… When in the kangaroo courts, Raisi suggested to each prisoner that they should surrender. A vast majority of the prisoners refused many doing so by shouting a loud ‘no’ to Raisi,” she continues.

As we speak, an Iranian regime operative by the name of Hamid Noury stands trial in Stockholm, Sweden, for his role in the 1988 massacre. Dozens of survivors and witnesses are providing testimony describing Noury’s crimes and demanding how all senior regime officials should face justice in international tribunals for their crimes against humanity, especially the summer 1988 massacre.

“Hamid Noury, or Hamid Abbasi, who was an assistant deputy prosecutor at the time in Evin and Gohardasht prisons, is now on trial. He is not one of the senior regime officials involved in the crimes and massacre of political prisoners. All the while, this is a very important development. The international community should break its silence with regards to this crime against humanity, the mass murder of 1988, where more than 30,000 political prisoners were hanged. The leaders of the regime, including Raisi, should be put on trial for the truth to be known. The regime continues to go the distance in eliminating all traces of the 1988 massacre. It has destroyed mass graves in various cities, such as Ahvaz and Tabriz, and constructed roads and buildings literally on top of these sites in order to eradicate the evidence,” Ms. Pouregbal added.

Regime President Ebrahim Raisi is best known for his direct role in Iran’s summer 1988 massacre, being one of the main members of the mullahs’ notorious “Death Commissions” responsible for determining the fates of each political prisoner during the massacre in kangaroo trials that lasted mere minutes. All political prisoner showing signs of loyalty to the PMOI/MEK in any way were immediately sentenced to certain death.

Raisi and other regime officials have committed genocide and crimes against humanity and should be held accountable in international tribunals. The world community should not provide these criminals any kind of legitimacy and instead, choose to stand alongside the Iranian people in their ongoing struggle to reach justice.

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