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One of the largest massacres of political prisoners in recent history

Interview with Asqar Karimi

WPI Briefing: During 27 July 1988 (5 Mordad 1367) until the beginnings of September (Shahrivar) that year, the Islamic regime of Iran carried out one of the largest massacres of political prisoners in recent history. What happened; how many were killed and why?

Asqar Karimi: In a matter of weeks an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 political prisoners were executed in the two main prisons in Tehran, namely Evin and Gohardasht, and in a number of other cities. The brutality that the heads of the Islamic regime displayed against the prisoners is unspeakable. The victims were mainly members of communist organisations and Mojahedin-e Khalgh. They were the lucky prisoners who had survived the mass executions of the early 1980s, who had already been tortured and tried and – in the case of many – whose sentences had long been ‘spent’.

The background to the executions was the end of the Iran-Iraq war. On 16th July that year, Ayatollah Khomeini had been forced to accept a ceasefire, which he described as ‘drinking the cup of poison’. Immediately afterwards, the plan for the massacre of political prisoners was drawn up. The Islamic regime has maintained itself in power only through terror and repression. Its mission was the smashing of the 1979 revolution, a revolution which the Shah had failed to stop. By protesting against the war and the miseries and destitution imposed as a result of the eight-year war, and by deserting the war fronts, people had forced the regime to accept the UN resolution. Now they were coming out to reclaim their rights. People were enraged. They had lost tens of thousands of their loved ones in that utterly reactionary war, they had been robbed of their livelihood and their protests and strikes had been put down in the name of the war. The regime itself was ridden by infighting and splits, and it looked more and more vulnerable in the face of the looming tide of popular anger and protest. It sensed that its survival depended on more repression and terror. It attacked before people could get a chance to re-organise. And it targeted the most vulnerable section of society – political prisoners.

Ayatollah Khomeini commissioned a special committee to carry out the killings. The Committee was composed of the representatives of Khomeini, President Rafsanjani, the Prosecutor General, the Revolutionary Courts, the Offices of Evin and Gohardasht Prisons, the Information Ministry and the Judiciary. On a Friday Prayer, Rafsanjani announced this ghastly plan. The members of the Committee, ferried by helicopter from one prison to the next, carried out the massacre with the help of a horde of other professional killers.

Visits to prisoners were stopped, no newspapers were allowed in and all contact with the outside world was cut off so that the plan could go ahead smoothly. The hearings would last no more than one to two minutes. The prisoners would be subjected to a swift inquisition. If the answers they gave were not to the liking of the Committee, they would be hanged immediately. They were asked: Do you believe in Islam? Will you denounce the political organisation in which you were a member? Will you reveal the names of its activists? Will you walk through the minefields planted by Iraq? And a few other similar questions. Answers to these questions were enough for a decision. Thus, in less than two months one of the biggest massacres of political prisoners by the leaders of the Islamic Republic was carried out. The names of more than 5,000 of the victims have so far been published by opposition organisations, but the exact figures are not known. Many mass graves have been discovered by the families of the victims and political opponents of the regime. The precise number of those executed and the details of this macabre undertaking will no doubt come out during the trial of the leaders of the Islamic Republic.

WPI Briefing: What is the Worker-communist Party of Iran doing to commemorate the victims of this massacre and to expose both this crime and others committed by the Islamic regime of Iran?

Asqar Karimi: We must continue to let the world know about the crimes of the Islamic Republic so as to stop the wheeling and dealing of the Western governments with the regime. We must expose the right-wing, hypocritical and time-serving media in the West and draw the support of the world’s decent and concerned people for the struggle of the people of Iran against one of the most vicious regimes of contemporary history. During the past 25 years, the Western governments have cooperated with the Islamic Republic, supported it and tried to embellish its hideous face so as to publicly justify their ties with it. We only need to remember that the news of the massacre of the political prisoners in 1988 failed to appear in a single paper in the West. They knew about it, but right then the Western governments – from the US and Sweden to West Germany and the UK – were busy selling arms to the regime. They had no intention of weakening it. So the right-wing and toadying media also fell into line. What blatant shamelessness! The world must get to know about this dirty deal and call them to account. On the anniversary of this massacre, as on other occasions, the Worker-communist Party of Iran regards it as its duty to let the people of the world know about the nightmare that the people of Iran have been through all these years.

Part of our work will be to commemorate the unknown victims of this massacre buried in unmarked mass graves; to step up the current climate of protest against the regime so as to hasten its overthrow; to encourage people to join the families of the victims in their gatherings in the cemeteries, in the parks and in the homes of the relatives of the victims. This is part of our effort for the indictment of the heads of the Islamic regime. Highlighting the plight of the political prisoners currently in jail and securing their freedom is another aspect of our work.

Finally, the story of the horrendous crimes of political Islam and the role of the Western governments, specifically the USA, in fostering this plague must be recounted for humanity by us, by the immediate victims of this reactionary, misogynist and murderous movement. The world must get to know political Islam as a fascistic movement of the recent decades and challenge it on a global scale. The struggle of the people of Iran for freedom is a powerful and deeply anti-Islamic movement. With the smashing of the Islamic Republic, a deadly blow will be delivered on the movement of political Islam in the region. Building up a global front against this dark force not only needs exposing its crimes, it also needs a global movement. The Worker-communist Party of Iran, as an anti-Islamic, egalitarian and deeply humanist party fighting for freedom, stands at the forefront of this struggle. We are proud to be engaged in this struggle and have no doubt that on our side we will have the overwhelming majority of the people of the world who are thirsty for freedom and justice. Exposing the crimes of the Islamic Republic is part of this larger world struggle.

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