In June 2021, in a presidential election that was neither free nor fair, and that most Iranians boycotted, Ebrahim Raisi became the eighth President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Raisi is implicated in the killings of more than 5,000 political prisoners in Iran’s jails in the summer of 1988, including my brother Bijan Bazargan.
Since Raisi’s appointment, people ask me, “how do you feel?” They are surprised when I say, “Honestly, I am happy and thrilled.” The reality is that I am relieved that finally, the truth about the IRI is plain to see: it is a regime run by killers. For decades, a false dichotomy has been advanced that there are hardliners and reformists in the IRI, and that it is in the best interest of the international community to support reformists to keep the regime in check. This sham election, which more closely resembled an engineered “selection”, clearly exposed this lie and hopefully, the free world will change their policy toward this brutal regime.
At the time of Iran’s revolution in 1979, my brother Bijan was a college student in London. He returned home to help rebuild his country. Bijan was arrested in July 1982 at age 23. After two years of interrogation, torture, and uncertainty, he received a ten-year sentence. His indictment was membership in a leftist party, distributing pamphlets, and donating money to his group. After more than six years behind bars, he was suddenly executed. The prison authorities told my father that Bijan was killed because “he had forsaken his Islamic faith and was an apostate.”
Three decades after the 1988 prison massacre in Iran, one of the people accused of these crimes against humanity is finally facing prosecution—but in Sweden, not Iran. Hamid Noury, a former Iranian assistant deputy prosecutor, is standing trial for war crimes and murder in connection with the 1988 prison massacre. The trial started on August 10 in Stockholm and is expected to last until April 2022, far from the scenes of the crimes — under what is known as the principle of universal jurisdiction. Under this legal concept, some heinous offenses such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and torture, are too monstrous to go unpunished, and people committing them are “enemies of all mankind.” Under universal jurisdiction, the crime could have been committed anywhere; neither the defendants nor the victims need to be residents of the country where the trial is held.
Since its establishment in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has committed atrocities and killed its opponents. Still, the pinnacle of the widespread violence was the unprecedented extermination of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. On July 20, 1988, Ruhollah Khomeini—the founder of the Islamic Republic and its first Supreme Leader—accepted a bitter cease-fire ending the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war. For two years, Khomeini and his team were planning their “Final Solution” to the problem of “political prisoners.” Khomeini used the excuse of the attack of July 26, 1988, of the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran (MKO) at Iran’s borders from Iraq, as a pretext for issuing a fatwa (Islamic judicial decree) in the last week of July 1988, ordering the mass execution of political prisoners and killing about 5,000 of them who were not willing to denounce their beliefs. In his fatwa, Khomeini called the prisoners mohareb (a person who wages war on God), condemning them to death based on Islamic rules. In his death sentence, Khomeini ordered the formation of “Death Commissions” around the country to execute his wishes, and asked the members not to “show mercy” and wrote, “I hope that you satisfy the Almighty God with your revolutionary rage and rancor against the enemies of Islam. You must not hesitate, nor show any doubt or concern with details… try to be most ferocious against infidels.”
Prisoners were hauled in front of the Death Commissions; they were interrogated and tortured in inquisitional sessions about their faith, beliefs, and political affiliation in very short five to ten-minute sessions. The goal was to eliminate as many prisoners as possible. The chosen ones were dispatched to the gallows built temporarily in the prayer halls. The revolutionary guards hanged them six at a time, and meat trucks carried their lifeless bodies to be buried hastily in shallow unmarked mass graves at locations like Khavaran cemetery. The families were never given the location of their loved ones’ graves. My parents died, not even knowing where their beloved son was buried.
During the massacre, the IRI’s diplomats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations justified these killings as part of unfortunate by-products of revolution and war. They promised change would come once the Iran-Iraq war was over. Ali Akbar Velayati, the IRI’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, is on the official wanted list of Interpol since March 2007, for allegations of “Aggravated Murder and Damages” related to the Jewish community center bombing in Buenos Aires. Velayati and his team in the United Nations, people like Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, Sirus Nasseri, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, in the early 1980s, rejected all the resolutions against Iran and its violation of human rights. Soon, they changed tactics and instead participated in the talks, dragged out the meetings, delayed the talks, and injected their version of the truth in the resolutions.
Noury’s case has damaging implications for the new president Raisi and other Iranian officials. Hopefully, Noury’s case will expose details about Raisi and the role of other prominent figures in this crime and have a knock-on effect for holding other alleged perpetrators accountable. While decades have passed since the 1988 massacre—with no justice for the victims—the Noury trial provides a chance to turn the page.
While justice unfolds across the Atlantic, there are concrete actions the United States can take at home to incentivize behavior change and hold perpetrators accountable. This includes ensuring that high ranking former officials from the Islamic Republic who are responsible for human rights violations and atrocities are barred from entry into the US—unless they have renounced the regime. If US authorities do grant such persons a visa to enter, it should only be with an arrest warrant in hand. Further, it is not enough to only sanction officials. Their wives and children should be targeted too. Currently, travel bans can extend to the close family of IRI officials on the sanctions list but Canada and our allies in Europe should follow suit to close the gap.
The families of the victims of the 1988 massacre—and the few survivors—expect the free world to stand up to the Islamic Republic, demand answers, and punish the perpetrators for their crimes. The cycle of violence in Iran will break only when the cycle of impunity for atrocity crimes is broken.
Source » iranintl