Protests Highlight Iran’s 1988 Massacre of Political Prisoners and Its Continuing Human Rights Abuses

by Armin Baldwin

A rally of the Anglo-Iranian communities gathered in Trafalgar Square earlier this month, at a memoriam for the 30,000 political prisoners who were killed in the 1988 massacre Iran that took place over a summer, 29 years ago.

Members and supporters of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), were the prime targets, after the founder the Islamic Republic, Khomenei, issued a fatwa declaring all remaining opponents of the clerical regime guilty of “waging war against God”, and ordered them executed.

“Death Committees” were established in major cities throughout Iran. They sentenced PMOI (MEK) activists to hang after trials lasting as little as one minute.

Although this massacre was meant to decimate the pro-democratic opposition, the PMOI (MEK) continues to thrive today. It is now the main constituent organization of the broader Iranian coalition known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Similar rallies to the one in Trafalgar Square have been held by Iranian expatriates in Europe and North America rally as part of an international campaign to highlight the weeks-long commemoration of the 1988 massacre.

The largest and most prominent of these gatherings occurs annually, on July 1st, in Paris. The NCRI’s annual gathering brings together an estimated 100,000 people each year, and includes many Western politicial figures, who are active supporters of the NCRI.

Neither the Paris gathering, nor the Trafalgar Square rally, were limited to discussing the 1988 massacre. Although it was the worst single incident in the history of the Islamic Republic, demonstrators called attention to mass executions that continue to occur to this day, as well as the suppression of dissidents, and the imprisonment of political activists.

In the two months following the Paris rally, some 200 people have been executed by the Iranian judiciary — a figure that only counts those who were formally hanged.

There is evidence that others might have died as a result of torture, the denial of medical care, or the conditions of the Iranian prison system, all of which have recently been called attention to by Amnesty International, among other organizations.

Recent attention has been focused on the hunger strike in Raja’i-Shahr Prison that is still being carried out by some two dozen political prisoners, many of whom are serving sentences for their support of the PMOI (MEK). Regarding the hunger-striking prisoners, Amnesty’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Magdalena Mughrabi said, “The fact that detention conditions have become so poor that desperate prisoners feel they are forced to go on hunger strike to demand the most basic standards of human dignity is disgraceful and highlights the urgent need for reforms to Iran’s cruel prison system.”

That the Raja’i-Shahr hunger strike is entering its third week, leading to severe deterioration in the participants’ health, was emphasized at the Trafalgar Square rally.

This hunger strike is significant because it was initiated in response to an intensified crackdown on prisoners in the facility’s political ward, who were forcibly moved to a much dire area, and had their medications and other personal items confiscated.

Their protest does not exist in isolation, however. It’s been reported that there has been a major upsurge in hunger strikes over the past several months.

A Tehran prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, recently acknowledged that these hunger strikes are a threat to the regime, and vowed that the government would resist prisoners’ demands for improved conditions and diminished repression. Unfortunately, Dowlatabadi’s vow may be upheld, as it has not yet led to an appropriate response in European policy.

The United Nations finally issued a statement regarding hunger strikes after weeks of silence. The UN called on the Islamic Republic to address the plight of prisoners. Still, leadership of the West has not put these recent human rights abuses in the context of past crimes like the 1988 massacre, for which the regime has not been held accountable.

The UN Human Rights Council has a responsibility to open an inquiry into the massacre of Iranian political prisoners in 1988, and the West must put human rights issues into its policies toward the Islamic Republic. Otherwise, the Iranian regime receives a message of impunity from the West, and will continue its disregard for human rights.