Iran’s Intelligence Ministry Tries to Hide Evidence of Massacre of Thousands of Political Prisoners in 1988

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Recording of Ayatollah Montazeri’s Plea to Stop the Executions is Taken Off Website

An audio file of Grand Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri—the once successor to Iran’s first supreme leader—bitterly criticizing the Islamic Republic’s mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 and arguing for an end to the killings, has been removed from his official website upon “request” from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.

“They contacted us from the Intelligence Ministry’s branch in Qom and said in their view the audio file should be removed. They didn’t make threats. It was a friendly request and we removed it,” said the late ayatollah’s son, Ahmad Montazeri, in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Asked why he complied, Montazeri said, “We’re talking about a request from the Intelligence Ministry of the Islamic Republic. We did it out of respect for [President] Hassan Rouhani and his government. Of course, their request was unreasonable because the file had already been downloaded and spread, so it doesn’t make a difference to us. But since they asked, we took it off the site.”

In the audio file, Montazeri, who at the time was heir apparent to the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, admonishes members of a four-man special judicial tribunal for what he described as “the greatest crime in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He directly tells the tribunal, later called the “Death Committee” by the victims’ families, that he did not wish for Khomeini to be judged by history as a “bloodthirsty, cruel and brazen figure” for executing political prisoners en masse.

In July and August 1988, prisoners sympathetic to opposition groups, namely the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK), as well as communist organizations, were executed and buried in mass graves in Khavaran Cemetery in southwest Tehran.

Iran has never revealed the official number of victims, but opposition and human rights groups have said that an estimated 4,000-5,000 executions were carried out at the time based on a secret order by Khomeini for the tribunal to re-prosecute the prisoners who had not received death sentences.

Montazeri’s official website published an announcement on August 9 stating that the audio file was made available because “the public has the right to know.”

It said the audio file was an unedited recording of a meeting in August 15, 1988 between Montazeri and Judge Hosseinali Nayeri, Tehran Prosecutor Morteza Eshraghi, Deputy Prosecutor General Ebrahim Raeesi and the Intelligence Ministry’s representative in Evin Prison Mostafa Pourmohammadi.

Pourmohammadi is currently the Justice Minister in Rouhani’s cabinet. Raeesi is now head of Astan Qods Razavi, a religious and industrial conglomerate in Mashhad, and has been mentioned in establishment circles as a possible successor to Iran’s current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

Montazeri, who died in December 2009, was touted as the future supreme leader soon after the Islamic Republic was established in 1979. But Khomeini dismissed him after their differences arose over the mass executions.

Montazeri’s strong opposition to the killings was well known based on his published memoirs. But the audio file of his comments to the tribunal had never before been made public on such a wide scale through the Internet.

In one part of the recording, Montazeri says: “None of my cousins are [MEK] members so I’m not worried for my own family members in prison. And I’m no friend of this group either. I’ve been harmed by them, inside and outside prison, more than anyone else. They martyred my own son (Mohammad Montazeri in 1981). They have martyred many of our great people. But what’s important for me is Islam’s and the revolution’s reputation and the future of our country as well as the person of Mr. Khomeini and how history will judge.”

“I don’t want Mr. Khomeini to be judged and called a bloodthirsty, cruel and brazen figure 50 years from now,” he said. “I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic since the [1979] revolution and history will condemn us for it. This action has been carried out by you, good and pious figures in the judicial administration. History will write you down as criminals.”

“Unfortunately, the problem is that our Judiciary is headed by someone [Ayatollah Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili] who’s against these [executions] … but he doesn’t have the guts to go to the imam [Khomeini] and tell him that this situation is harmful and against our interests,” said Montazeri in the recording.

For nearly two decades the victims’ families and human rights groups have called on the Islamic Republic to lift the veil of secrecy and investigate the mass executions. However, senior Iranian officials have consistently refused to provide details.

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