July 26, 2018
Mass graves of political prisoners including inmates who were executed in the late 1980s have been razed to the ground in the city of Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, prominent human rights activist Shadi Sadr has reported.
The caption of a picture published by the Justice for Iran website on July 25 says, “This is a mass grave site in Ahvaz, Iran. At least 44 political prisoners executed in 1988 were secretly buried here. In the following years, the authorities turned the site into a rubbish dump. Now, the site is at imminent risk due to a road -widening project. There are fears that it will be destroyed for a “green space” or commercial development.”
Sadr said her report on the graves is verified, based on investigative research as well as numerous pieces of footage, documents, news, and images.
The graves, which have been completely razed to the ground by hydraulic excavators, are currently under tight control and supervision by security agents.
The operation to raze the site, which included tombstones laid by relatives of the victims, took less than 24 hours in an apparent attempt to draw as little attention as possible, eyewitnesses told Justice for Iran.
Citing the relatives of political prisoners who were executed in late 1988 while serving their prison terms, Sadr reported, “In 1988 and in the heat of executing political prisoners across Iran, the bodies of at least 44 male and female inmates in Ahvaz were secretly buried in an unmarked mass grave in the city’s Padadshahr neighborhood.”
According to Justice for Iran, an eyewitness, named Eissa Bazyar, has testified he saw bodies buried overnight in freshly dug mass graves in the late 1980s in Ahvaz.
The relatives of the victims believe that the mass graves were immediately paved over with concrete to prevent the families from finding the burial place.
In the past few decades, Sadr notes, “The location of the graves was used as a garbage dump and piling up building debris to cover it up from the public eye and deprive the prisoners’ relatives access to the tombs.”
The wiping-out operation by the municipality of Ahvaz initially began in late 2017 but was almost immediately stopped after widespread protests.
Justice for Iran, along with Amnesty International (AI), published a special report on the mass graves two months ago and warned the Iranian authorities, “Mass graves are crime scenes that require professional forensic expertise to undertake exhumations and ensure preservation of evidence and accurate identification of bodies. By desecrating the site, the authorities will be destroying vital evidence that could one day be used to shed light on the number and identity of those killed in state custody.”
AI Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Magdalena Mughrabi noted, “By attempting to destroy the mass grave in Ahvaz, the Iranian authorities appear to be embarking on a sinister and deliberate effort to destroy crucial evidence of their past crimes and deprive the families of the victims of the 1988 mass prisoner killings of their right to truth, justice and reparation. This is a shocking assault on justice that must be stopped immediately.”
For her part, director of Justice for Iran, Shadi Sadr noted, “For years the authorities have inflicted unbearable suffering on the families of the victims of the 1988 extrajudicial executions. They have denied them the right to give their loved ones a dignified burial and forced them to walk through piles of rubbish to visit their dead. Now they are planning to destroy their final resting place and trying to obliterate their memory from history.”
Destroying mass graves of political prisoners in Iran is a deliberate action and not limited to Ahvaz, AI and JFI have noted.
In ar least seven other cities, the authorities have led similar operations, challenged by the victims’ relatives.
Most of the prisoners who fell victim to mass executions in the late 1980s belonged to anti-Islamic establishment armed groups, including the People’s Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MeK or MKO), followed by the members of the pro-Soviet Union Tudeh Party and the Marxist Fedayeen Khalq.
The number of prisoners who were executed by firing squads or hanging is still unknown, but many analysts believe that up to 5,000 were killed during that period.
Late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, at the time serving as the successor of the leader of the Islamic Revolution and Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, openly declared that the prisoners were executed by direct orders issued by Khomeini.
Most of the victims were kept in different prisons in Tehran, and their bodies were mainly buried in unmarked graveyards, including the one known today as Khavaran.