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Photos of victims at a memorial commemorating those killed during the mass executions in the 1980s, Khavaran cemetery in Tehran, Iran, 2020.

Iran’s 1988 Mass Executions

Evidence & Legal Analysis of “Crimes Against Humanity”

Photos of victims at a memorial commemorating those killed during the mass executions in the 1980s, Khavaran cemetery in Tehran, Iran, 2020. © 2020 Private

  1. Overview
  2. What happened in the lead-up to the 1988 mass executions in Iran?
  3. How did Iranian authorities carry out the 1988 mass executions?
  4. What evidence is there for the 1988 mass executions?
  5. Which senior Iranian officials planned the 1988 mass executions?
  6. Why are the 1988 mass executions in Iran considered crimes against humanity?
  7. What is the significance of the trial in Sweden?
  8. Are the 1988 mass executions war crimes?
  9. What can be done to hold President Raeesi accountable for involvement in the 1988 mass executions?
  10. What else can states do to support accountability for the 1988 mass executions?


  1. Overview

In 1988, Iranian authorities, acting on the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, summarily and extrajudicially executed thousands of political prisoners across the country. The number of executions is not definitively known, but according to estimates from former Iranian officials and lists compiled by human rights and opposition groups, Iranian authorities executed between 2,800 and 5,000 prisoners in at least 32 cities in the country.[1]

There is overwhelming evidence and consensus among Iran historians, human rights researchers, and policy analysts that these mass executions occurred, and Human Rights Watch believes these heinous acts amount to crimes against humanity. Under international law, under certain conditions, national and international tribunals can have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute individuals credibly implicated in such serious crimes outside the territory where they occurred. Given that a trial of an Iranian national on charges related to the mass executions of 1988 in Sweden is coming to a close, as well as serious allegations that President Ebrahim Raeesi, who became Iran’s president in June 2021, had a role in these crimes, Human Rights Watch has prepared a question and answer document to address the known facts of these mass executions, why the executions should be classified as crimes against humanity, and possible paths to hold the surviving perpetrators accountable.

  1. What happened in the lead-up to the 1988 mass executions in Iran?

On July 18, 1988, the Iranian government accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, calling for a cease-fire in the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq. On July 25, the largest Iranian armed opposition group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), based in Iraq since 1986, launched an incursion named “Eternal Light” into Iran in an attempt to topple the government.[2] Iranian forces repelled this offensive, but many believed that it provided a pretext for the authorities to eliminate many political opponents then in prison, including many MKO members captured and sentenced years earlier. Authorities reportedly conducted the executions in two phases, initially members of the MKO and subsequently nonreligious and leftist parties.[3]

The executions of political opponents started immediately after the 1979 revolution. After June 1981, however, when MKO called for street protests that turned violent, the repression against political activism dramatically increased. Between summer of 1981 and summer 1988, authorities executed hundreds of political prisoners after sentencing them in grossly unfair trials.[4]

  1. How did Iranian authorities carry out the 1988 mass executions?

According to accounts of several prisoners who were at the time detained in Gohardasht prison in Karaj and Evin prison in Tehran in late July 1988, after Iran accepted UN Security Council Resolution 598 and officially ended the eight-year war with Iraq, authorities started transferring and isolating political prisoners in those prisons and abruptly suspended all prison visits.[5] During that period, authorities interrogated prisoners about their political beliefs and categorized them according to the degree of their perceived loyalty to Iran’s rulers. The authorities had done that multiple times before the summer of 1988 in an effort to isolate prisoners who were “steadfast” in the beliefs.[6] According to some accounts, that is why it was not clear to prisoners if they were being interviewed as part of a transfer to a new prison or a potential clemency.[7] For several weeks in late July and early August, officials made strenuous efforts to keep prisoners segregated and isolated to conceal their real plans.

 According to Amnesty International, questions posed by the committee included:

  • Are you prepared to denounce the MKO and its leadership?
  • Are you prepared to express “repentance” about your political opinions and activities?
  • Do you declare loyalty to the Islamic Republic?
  • Are you willing to walk through an active minefield to assist the army of the Islamic Republic?
  • Are you willing to join the armed forces of the Islamic Republic and fight against the MKO?
  • Will you spy on former comrades and “cooperate” with intelligence officials?
  • Are you willing to participate in firing squads?
  • Are you willing to hang a member of the MKO?
  • Are you a Muslim? Do you pray? Do you read the Qur’an? [8]

Survivors have described being blindfolded, waiting in hallways to be taken before the committee and seeing prisoners being taken for execution, including those in bad health due to torture.[9] According to two accounts from prisoners in Gohardasht, Kaveh Nesari, who had epilepsy, was carried to the gallows by another prisoner because he could not walk on his own.[10] The exact dates of the mass executions are unknown, but based on prisoners' accounts they likely occurred in Evin and Gohardasht prisons between July 26 and July 30. The timeline for executions in prisons outside the capital, Tehran, varies.

Amnesty International’s report quotes a survivor who was detained in Gohardasht prison:

After a short while, a guard came and took me inside the hall. Once there, he pulled down my blindfold for a few moments and I saw numerous bodies strewn on the ground. There were about 12 chairs with 12 ropes hanging above them. The guards were busy quickly bringing in the prisoners and putting nooses around their necks and the guards pulled at the legs of dangling prisoners until they died.... I saw some prisoners who were chanting, and this made the guards very hysterical. [One of the senior prison officials] attacked and hit them and yelled, “Kill all of these quickly! Finish them off!” I do not know what happened next. I was not able to stand up any more and I passed out. The next thing I felt was that they were sprinkling water at my face and a guard dragged me out.[11]

According to prisoners' testimonies and some historians, in late August the authorities expanded the executions to prisoners from leftist parties.[12] Amirhossein Behboudi, who was imprisoned in Gohardasht prison during the time of the executions, described in his memoir how authorities lashed him and other prisoners to make them promise that they would pray.

On August 5, 1988, Abdulkarim Mousavi Ardebili, then-head of Iran’s Supreme Court and a member of Iran’s Supreme Judicial Council, reportedly said in a sermon at Friday prayers in Tehran: “The judiciary is under very strong pressure from public opinion asking why we even put them [members and supporters of the MKO] on trial, why some of them are jailed, and why all are not executed.… The people say they should all be executed without exception.”[13]

In late October 1988, when authorities began to restore prison visits, they also started to inform families that their loved ones had been executed. According to Amnesty International, many of these notices were oral; authorities summoned families to prisons and government offices and did not provide death certificates. Many families said that they were handed a bag that an official said contained the personal belongings of their dead relative and were ordered not to hold a memorial service.[14]

Amnesty International’s report includes the account how the family of an MKO supporter was informed about his execution:

The Revolutionary Guards summoned my father to their office in Boroujerd [Lorestan province]. There, he was taken into a room and sat on a chair. An official then walked in, put a bag on his desk and said: “Here is your son’s bag; we have executed him. Now take his stuff and get out.” The official also told my father, “You are not allowed to talk about this anywhere or attempt to locate his grave. You must not hold a ceremony either.” It was really inhumane, the sudden way in which they told my father. I think he passed out in their office for a while.[15]

The places of burial for most of the victims remain unknown. According to Amnesty International, Iranian authorities did not return the bodies of any of the victims to families. They also refused to tell most families where the bodies were buried and orally directed some families to either mass grave sites (without formal acknowledgment of their existence) or individual graves.[16] Over the past 30 years, Iranian authorities have routinely denied survivors a chance to mourn or commemorate their loved ones and have prosecuted those who sought truth and justice.[17]

  1. What evidence is there for the 1988 mass executions?

The memoirs of Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, published in 2000, offer the most credible account of the mass executions from a government perspective. Montazeri was, in 1988, one of the highest-ranking government officials in Iran, the designated successor of Ayatollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader, and the highest-ranking official known to have opposed the executions and to have sought to prevent them.

Montazeri’s memoir revealed a copy of the secret fatwa (religious order) that Ayatollah Khomeini had issued in late July 1988, designating a committee to review the cases of MKO prisoners and execute all prisoners who remained “steadfast” in their support of the group, as well as letters of protest he had written to Ayatollah Khomeini and the committee in charge of implementing the fatwa. The fatwa was undated; Amnesty International estimated the date to be July 28 and provided this translation:

“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Since the treacherous monafeqin [hypocrites, term Iranian officials use to refer to MKO members] do not believe in Islam and whatever they say stems from their deception and hypocrisy, and since, as per the admissions of their leaders, they have deserted Islam, and since they wage war against God and are engaging in classical warfare on the western, northern, and southern fronts with the collaboration of the Baathist Party of Iraq, and also they are spying for Saddam [Hussein, Iraq’s late president] against our Muslim nation, and since they are tied to the World Arrogance [US and Western powers] and have inflicted foul blows on the Islamic Republic since its inception, it follows that those who remain steadfast in their position of nefaq [hypocrisy] in prisons throughout the country are considered to be mohareb [waging war against God] and are condemned to execution. In Tehran, this determination shall be made based on a majority opinion by gentlemen, Hojjatoleslam [honorific used for certain clerics] Nayyeri[18], Mr Eshraghi,[19] and a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence, even though a unanimous decision is more cautious. In the prisons of provincial capitals in the country, the views of a majority of [a trio consisting of] the Shari’a judge, the revolutionary prosecutor general or assistant prosecutor, and the ministry of intelligence representative must be obeyed. It is naive to show mercy to moharebs. The decisiveness of Islam before the enemies of God is among the unquestionable tenets of the Islamic system. I hope that you satisfy Almighty God with your revolutionary rage and rancor against the enemies of Islam. The gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions must not hesitate, nor show any doubt or concerns and they must endeavor to be the ‘harshest on non-believers.’ To hesitate in the judicial process of revolutionary Islam is to ignore the pure and holy blood of the martyrs.” [20]

The three-person committee in charge of making those determinations became known among survivors as the “death committee.” In his memoirs, Montazeri published two letters he had written to Ayatollah Khomeini, as well as the transcript of a meeting Montazeri had with Nayyeri, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who was the representative of Ministry of Intelligence in the committee, Eshraghi, and his deputy Ebrahim Raeesi to protest the ongoing prison executions.

“After my second letter of protest [to Ayatollah Khomeini], there was no change and [the executions] continued,” Montazeri recounts. “On August 15, 1988, I met with Mr. Nayyeri, who was the religious judge in Evin, Mr. Eshraghi who was the prosecutor, and Mr. Pourmohammadi who was the representative of the Ministry of Information. I told them that they should stop the executions during the month of Moharram.[21] Mr. Nayyeri responded: ‘We have so far executed seven-hundred and fifty people in Tehran, and we have identified another two-hundred people. Allow us to get rid of them and then we’ll listen to you…!’”

In 2016, Ahmad Montazeri, Montazeri’s son, released a 40-minute audio file from this meeting.[22] All four men can be heard addressing each other and Ebrahim Raeesi is directed to respond to a question about the Supreme Judicial Council’s role in coordinating executions. Raeesi responded that the council withdrew from the matter and also spoke about restoring prisoner visits.

In the tape, Montazeri is heard reading out his second letter to Ayatollah Khomeini:

 “Three days ago, a religious judge from one of the provinces who is a trustworthy man,[…] came to Qom in great distress about the way Imam Khomeini’s decree is being implemented. He said either an intelligence officer or the prosecutor, I don’t remember which one, was trying to assess if a prisoner was still holding his [political] belief. He asked: Are you ready to condemn the monafeghin? The prisoner said: yes. He asked: Are you ready to make a public statement? The prisoner said: yes. And then he asked: Are you willing to go to the front line of Iran-Iraq war? He said yes. He asked: Are you willing to walk in the mine fields? The prisoner responded: Do you mean all the people are willing to walk over mine fields? Moreover, you should not have such high expectations from someone who just became Muslim. The authority said: You are still holding on to your belief and […] they executed him.”

Montazeri’s memoir includes a letter he addressed to Eshraghi, Nayyeri, Pourmohammadi and Raeesi after the meeting, summarizing the points he had raised during the meeting and his strong objection to the executions.[23]

According to Ayatollah Montazeri, after some time a second letter was sent from Ayatollah Khomeini (it is unclear in his memoir to which officials it was sent) to “eliminate” the nonreligious and communist prisoners. The text of this letter has not been published, but Montazeri mentions in his memoir that Ayatollah Khamenei went to Montazeri and protested the letter. Montazeri wrote that he asked Khamenei why he had not opposed his previous letter and Khamenei responded as if he was not aware of the first letter.[24]

In addition to Montazeri’s memoir, dozens of prisoners from different political parties, including MKO and leftist parties, have written memoirs about their time in prison corroborating information on the timing and procedure of the executions.[25] Several human rights organizations have also documented the summary executions of political prisoners during the summer of 1988. The most notable include Amnesty International’s 2018 report titled “Blood-Soaked Secrets,” and the Abdorraham Boroumand Foundation’s 2010 report titled “Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran, 1988.”

The allegations of mass executions of prisoners were mentioned in reports prepared by UN independent experts, in particular reports of the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights in Iran, Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, as early as 1989. In response to the special representative’s inclusion of more 1,000 names of those allegedly executed during the months of July, August, and September 1988 in his January 1989 report, Iranian government officials disputed the sources of the allegations as affiliated with MKO and refused to provide any explanation into the allegations.[26]

  1. Which senior Iranian officials planned the 1988 mass executions?

Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the mass executions in his 1988 fatwa (religious ruling). In the written document published in Montazeri’s memoir, he named Hosseinali Nayyeri, a judge at the case at the time, and Morteza Eshraghi, Tehran’s prosecutor at the time, as part of the “death committee” responsible for deciding the prisoners selected for the mass executions. Ayatollah Montazeri’s memoir identified Mosfata Pourmohammadi as the representative from the Intelligence Ministry who attended the meetings of the supervising committee in Tehran. Despite initial denials, after the 2016 release of Ayatollah Montazeri’s audio recording in which Pourmohammadi’s voice is audible, Pourmohammadi told Tasnim news on August 28, 2016, that “we are proud to have implemented God’s order.”[27]

Ebrahim Raeesi, the current president and former head of the judiciary, was also one of the four people named in Ayatollah Montazeri’s correspondence with officials overseeing the executions. Iraj Mesaghi, a former MKO member who survived the mass execution in Gohardasht prison in Karaj, has stated that he personally saw Ebrahim Raeesi in Gohardasht prison and that Raeesi and Eshraghi would personally go to the execution site to ensure that the process was completed according to the protocols.[28]

On May 1, 2018, Ebrahim Raeesi, referring to media reports about his role in the 1988 mass killings of prisoners, did not dispute his presence in the meeting with Ayatollah Montazeri but noted that “during that time, I was not the head of the court.… The head of the court issues sentences whereas the prosecutor represents the people.” Using the word “confrontation” in an apparent reference to the mass killings, he said he regarded them as “one of the proud achievements of the system” and praised Ayatollah Khomeini as a “national hero.”[29]

During the executions, several Iranian officials who were in high-ranking positions at the time and were likely aware of these executions denied or downplayed the executions.[30] Some have either later tried to distance themselves from the executions, or, like current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, have not publicly spoken about them. [31] 

Human rights groups have identified other government officials who participated in local judicial committees or helped cover up the crime in various international settings.[32]

  1. Why are the 1988 mass executions in Iran considered crimes against humanity?

Extrajudicial killings, that is, unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by the order of a government or with its complicity or acquiescence, is a serious violation of the right to life and prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party. Under international law, certain acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population are considered crimes against humanity. According to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), these include murder, imprisonment, torture, enforced disappearance, and other inhumane acts.

In the 1980s, under customary international law, crimes against humanity could have been committed during times of peace as well as war if they are part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.[33] “Widespread” refers to the scale of the acts or number of victims.[34] “Systematic” indicates “a pattern or methodical plan.”[35]

Available evidence points to the fact that in July-September 1988, Iranian authorities executed thousands of prisoners in violation of their fundamental rights with no access to a fair judicial process and thus amounting to extrajudicial executions. The scale of these executions and their implementation as part of a policy also satisfy the widespread and systematic elements of crimes against humanity.

  1. How can Iranian officials credibly implicated in the 1988 mass executions be held accountable?

None of the officials credibly implicated in the executions have ever been investigated in Iran.

For more than 30 years, Iranian authorities have also refused to acknowledge these serious violations and have prosecuted those seeking truth and justice for the crimes. As a result, it is unlikely that victims can find justice through the domestic legal system in Iran.

Given the gravity of the crimes, criminal accountability is not only a crucial element of justice for those affected by the abuses but also an essential part of preventing the commission of such heinous crimes in the future. Therefore, criminal justice authorities in other countries should pursue cases against those implicated in these acts in domestic courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction in accordance with national laws and where evidence allows.

"Universal jurisdiction" refers to the authority of national judicial systems to investigate and prosecute certain of the most serious crimes under international law no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims.

International treaties require countries that have ratified them to use universal jurisdiction for: war crimes committed in an international armed conflict (1949 Geneva Conventions), apartheid (the 1973 Convention against Apartheid), torture (the 1984 Convention against Torture), and enforced disappearances (the 2006 Convention against Enforced Disappearance). These treaties require signatories to extradite or investigate a suspect in their territory. It is also generally agreed that customary international law allows the use of universal jurisdiction for crimes considered particularly heinous by the international community, such as war crimes in non-international armed conflicts, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Countries have not uniformly implemented international law and universal jurisdiction into their national laws. As a result, some countries have universal jurisdiction for some crimes and not for others, and the starting date for such jurisdiction can vary. Most countries’ laws require the suspect to be present on their territory.

Over the past two decades, the national courts of an increasing number of countries have pursued cases involving grave international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions committed abroad. National experiences in various countries show that the fair and effective exercise of universal jurisdiction is achievable where there is the right combination of appropriate laws, adequate resources, institutional commitments, and political will.

Liability for serious crimes under international law is not limited to those who carry out the acts, but also those who order, assist, or are otherwise complicit in the crimes. That includes liability on the basis of command responsibility in which military and civilian officials, up to the top of the chain of command, can be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates, when they knew or should have known that such crimes were being committed, but failed to take reasonable measures to prevent or stop them.[36]

  1. What is the significance of the trial in Sweden?

On July 27, 2021, Swedish prosecutors announced their decision to prosecute an Iranian citizen for “committing grave war crimes and murder in Iran during 1988.” This is the first time an Iranian official who is accused of participating in executions of 1988 is appearing before a judicial body.[37] Prosecutors did not reveal the identity of the suspect, who has been detained in Sweden since November 2019, but Human Rights Watch met with the family and learned that the suspect is alleged to have been an assistant to the prosecutor in Gohardasht prison. The trial closed on May 4, 2022, and the judges are expected to issue their verdict on July 14, 2022. [38]

Swedish prosecutors clarified that “Swedish domestic legislation does not include crimes against humanity committed before 1 July 2014 and could not be relied on in this indictment as the alleged criminal acts took place before that date. Therefore, the indictment involves crimes against the international law i.e. war crimes as well as murder.”[39]

The trial has provided a unique opportunity for survivors of the mass execution to testify before a judicial body. Over the course of nine months, dozens of survivors who were imprisoned in relation to membership in MKO and leftist parties testified about the detention condition, torture, and summary executions of prisoners in Gohardasht prison.

  1. Are the 1988 mass executions war crimes?

Iranian state-affiliated media narratives have claimed that MKO-affiliated prisoners were planning riots, and along with the MKO launching an attack from Iraq (Operation Eternal Light) at the end of the Iraq-Iran war, and used this claim to justify the mass executions.[40]

In describing the criminal act, the Swedish prosecutor has argued that “an international armed conflict prevailed between Iran and Iraq between 1981 and 1988. Iran was attacked on several occasions during the final phase of the armed conflict, among others, on 26 July 1988 by an armed branch of the political organization, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (‘Mojahedin’), in which connection Mojahedin became part of the international armed conflict. These attacks came from Iraqi territory and were supported by and in cooperation with the Iraqi army.” [41]

The indictment further argues that “In the event that Mojahedin’s actions according to the first paragraph were not deemed to be part of the international armed conflict between Iran and Iraq during the spring/summer of 1988, there was, alongside the conflict between Iran and Iraq, a non-international armed conflict between the state of Iran and Mojahedin.”

Many of those executed, especially those affiliated with leftist political parties, were not involved in the ongoing armed conflict between Iran and the MKO. For MKO members captured in the context of hostilities between Iran and MKO, their execution would constitute a war crime.

While those detained for participation in non-state armed hostilities are not immune from criminal prosecution under domestic law, Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II provide that persons deprived of liberty for reasons related to the conflict must also be treated humanely in all circumstances. In particular, they are protected against murder, torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Under most universally accepted definitions of war crimes, including article 8 of the Rome Statute, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, including willful killing and torture or inhuman treatment of protected persons constitute war crimes.[42] Therefore the 1988 executions could amount to war crimes. The trial in Sweden has charged the defendant with this crime.

Similar to crimes against humanity, those who commit war crimes or were in a superior (command) position to prevent or punish crimes committed by subordinates may be held accountable for their individual responsibility.

  1. What can be done to hold President Raeesi accountable for involvement in the 1988 mass executions?

Ebrahim Raeesi is Iran’s head of state. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) held, in the Yerodia decision, which opposed Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo about an arrest warrant against the Congolese foreign minister, that heads of states and some ministers have immunity from prosecution before the national courts of a third country while they are in office.

Raeesi could be prosecuted under universal jurisdiction laws once he is no longer in office. In a recent landmark case, Senegalese courts prosecuted the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, for crimes in that country in the 1980s. It was the first such case by the national courts of one country against the former head of state of another.

National judicial officials are also not barred from conducting investigations or collecting evidence against an individual implicated in serious crimes regardless of whether they enjoy immunity at the time of the investigations.

  1. What else can states do to support accountability for the 1988 mass executions?

Investigating and prosecuting grave international crimes on the basis of universal jurisdiction is not easy. In addition to appropriate legislation, it requires complex investigations by national criminal justice authorities of often large-scale crimes that happened years earlier in a foreign country, which can be extremely difficult and costly. Gathering evidence – most often victims and witnesses to the actual crimes – usually requires traveling to the country where the crimes occurred. This presents a range of challenges, including linguistic and cultural barriers and possible resistance from national authorities who may not want to see justice served.

To assist national investigators and prosecutors, states should consider establishing inquiries mandated through the United Nations aimed at preserving evidence for potential future prosecution.


[1] Deputy Supreme Leader Hossein Ali Montazeri wrote in his memoir that the number of executed prisoners in 1988 was either 2,800 or 3,800. Ervand Abrahamian, a distinguished Iranian-American historian, references in his book Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran several estimates of the number of executed prisoners in the 1988 massacre. One eyewitness account in a memoir (Plain Truths: Memoirs from Women’s Prisons in the Islamic Republic), which Abrahamian cites, claims “thousands,” while another eyewitness (Anonymous, “I Was Witness to the Slaughter of Political Prisoners in Gohar Dasht,” Cheshmandaz, no. 14 [Winter 1995]: p. 68) “puts it between 5,000 and 6,000—1,000 from the left and the rest from the Mojahedin.” Another 1996 study Abrahamian cites, which utilizes “scattered information from the [Iranian] provinces,” estimates the figure at 12,000 (N. Mohajer, “The Mass Killings in Iran,” Aresh 57 (August 1996): 7); see also Amnesty International report, “Blood-Soaked Secrets: Why Iran’s 1988 Prison Massacres Are Ongoing Crimes Against Humanity,” (2018),, p. 19.

[2] According to MKO, the attack was launched on July 25, 1988. See “سالگرد حماسه کبیر فروغ جاویدان,” MKO official website,, (accessed May 25, 2022).

[4]Amnesty International report, “Blood-Soaked Secrets: Why Iran’s 1988 Prison Massacres Are Ongoing Crimes Against Humanity,” 2018,

[5] According to Iraj Mesdaghi’s memoir, several prison visits were canceled starting on July 24 at Gohardasht prison but families saw the official notice of visits at Gohardasht being canceled on July 27 (p. 116-121); Abrahamian in Tortured Confessions wrote that the prison visits were canceled on July 19 (p. 210). Iraj Mesdaghi’s memoir Neither Life Nor Death can be found here:[6] Abdorraham Boroumand Foundation Report, “Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran, 1988”, 2010,

[7] Abdorraham Boroumand Foundation, “Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran, 1988.”

[8] Amnesty International, “Blood-Soaked Secrets,” p. 11.

[9] Mesdaghi, Neither Life Nor Death, volume 3 p. 180.

[10] Mesdaghi, Neither Life Nor Death, volume 3, p 180; Radio Zamaneh, “Testimony of Ramezan Fathi during the 15th session of the Hamid Nouri trial in Sweden,” September 14, 2021, (accessed May 25, 2022).

[11] Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions, p. 210. Amnesty International, “Blood-Soaked Secrets,” p. 90.

[12]Amirhossein Behboudi, A Forest of Stars (2016) p. 244; Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions, p. 211.

[13] Jalal Yaqoubi, “Mousavi Ardebili, the Judge who withdrew from Politics,” BBC Persian, November 23, 2016 (accessed May 25, 2022).

[14] Amnesty International, “Blood-Soaked Secrets,” p. 42.

[15] Amnesty International, “Blood-Soaked Secrets,” p. 42.

[16] Amnesty International, “Blood-Soaked Secrets,” p. 12.

[17] Human Rights Watch statement, “Joint Statement on Iran: Repression of Those Seeking Truth and Justice for 1980s Killings Needs to Stop,” March 8, 2017,

[18] Hosseinali Nayyeri was the Sharia judge on the case at the time.

[19] Morteza Eshraghi was the prosecutor for Tehran at the time.

[20]Amnesty International, “Blood-Soaked Secrets,” p. 97.

[21] Moharram is the first month of lunar Islamic (hijri) calendar and marks the anniversary of the battle of Karbala, where the Islamic prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussain Ibn Ali was killed. Shia Muslims observe several days of mourning during this month and killing is particularly detestable in Shia jurisprudence.

[22] Clip available on BBC Persian Soundcloud: (accessed May 23, 2022), or on YouTube with English subtitles, (accessed May 23, 2022). Following the release of the audio file, Ahmad Montazeri, the son of the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, was sentenced to 21 years imprisonment in November 2016 after the Special Court of Clergy convicted him of several charges including “spreading propaganda against the system” and “revealing plans, secrets or decisions regarding the state’s domestic or foreign policies … in a manner amounting to espionage.” The sentence was later suspended. For more information, please see Human Rights Watch statement, “Joint Statement on Iran: Repression of Those Seeking Truth and Justice for 1980s Killings Needs to Stop,” March 8, 2017,

[24] Hossein Ali Montazeri Memoirs, p. 639,

[25] Examples of the memoirs and historical documentation include: Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran (Ervand Abrahamian), Neither Life Nor Death ( Iraj Mesdaghi), Voices of Massacre, Untold Stories of Life and Death in Iran 1988 (Nasser Mohajer), Amirhossein Behboudi, A Forest of Stars (2016).

[26] “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Islamic Public of Iran by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights,” UN Economic and Social Council, January 26, 1989, available:; “Report of the Economic and Social Council, Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Note by the Secretary-General, UN Economic and Social Council, November 2, 1989, available:

[27] BBC Persian, “پورمحمدی درباره اعدام‌های ۶۷: افتخار می‌کنیم حکم خدا را اجرا کردیم,” August 28, 2016, (accessed May 23, 2022).

[28] Radio Zamaneh, “آنچه از رئیسی در «کشتار ۶۷» دیدم,” May 11, 2017, (accessed May 25, 2022); Abdorraham Boroumand Foundation, “Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran, 1988,” p. 42.

[29] 8 Iranian Students’ News Agency, “The explanations of Raeesi about the events of 1980s”, May 1, 2018, (accessed May 25, 2022).

[30] Amnesty International, “Blood Soaked Secrets,” p. 65.

[31] Rooz News, “متن کامل اظهارات میرحسین موسوی در مورد اعدام های سال ۱۳۶۷,” Septemebr 29,2020, (accessed May 25, 2022).

[32] Amnesty, “Blood-Soaked Secrets.”

[33]By the early 1980s – and the resumption of the International Law Commission’s (ILC) work on the "Draft Code on Offences against Peace and Security of Mankind" – the customary definition of crimes against humanity did not include a war nexus that was included in the Nuremberg trial. Such a requirement had progressively been dropped from the ILC's work since 1950 and was not included in treaties developed by the United Nations such as the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and the 1973 Convention on the Prohibition and Suppression of Apartheid. Although it had been included in article 5 of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Statute (ICTY), and not in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Appeals Chamber (Prosecutor v. Tadìc, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal, 2 October 1995, para. 141) determined that the Statute was not reflective of customary law but rather adopted a more restrictive definition: "It is by now a settled rule of customary international law that crimes against humanity do not require a connection to international armed conflict. Indeed, as the Prosecutor points out, customary international law may not require a connection between crimes against humanity and any conflict at all. Thus, by requiring that crimes against humanity be committed in either internal or international armed conflict, the Security Council may have defined the crime in Article 5 more narrowly than necessary under customary international law.(...)." Available:

[34] Widespread is defined as “massive, frequent, large scale action, carried out collectively with considerable seriousness and directed against a multiplicity of victims.” See, ICTR, Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, Case No. ICTR-96-4-T, Judgment (Trial Chamber I), September 2, 1998,, para. 579; see also ICTY, Prosecutor v. Dario Kordić and Mario Čerkez, Case No. IT-92-14/2, Trial Chamber III, February 26, 2001,, para. 179; ICTR, Prosecutor v. Clément Kayishema and Obed Ruzindana, Case No. ICTR-95-1-T, Trial Chamber II, May 21, 1999,, para. 123.

[35] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Duško Tadić, Case No. IT-94-1-T, Opinion and Judgment (Trial Chamber), May 7, 1997,, para. 648. In Prosecutor v. Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač, and Zoran Voković, the Appeals Chamber stated that “patterns of crimes – that is the non-accidental repetition of similar criminal conduct on a regular basis – are a common expression of [a] systematic occurrence.” ICTY, Prosecutor v. Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač, and Zoran Voković, Case No. IT-96-23 and IT-96-23-1A, Judgment (Appeals Chamber), June 12, 2002,, para. 94.

[36] See ICTY, Prosecutor v. Kupreškić et al., Case No. IT-95-16-T, Trial Chamber, January 14, 2000,, para. 556 (“[T]he requisite mens rea for crimes against humanity appears to be comprised by (1) the intent to commit the underlying offence, combined with (2) knowledge of the broader context in which that offence occurs.”) See also, ICTY, Prosecutor v. Duško Tadić, Case No. IT-94-1-A, Judgement (Appeals Chamber), July 15, 1999,, para. 271; ICTR, Prosecutor v. Clément Kayishema and Obed Ruzindana, Case No. ICTR-95-1-T, Judgement (Trial Chamber II), May 21, 1999,, paras. 133-34.

[37] “Sweden: Iran War Crimes Trial Opens,” Human Rights Watch press release, August 9, 2021,

[38] “آخرین جلسه دادگاه حمید نوری در سوئد؛ حکم هفتاد روز دیگر صادر می‌شود,” BBC Persian, May 4, 2022, (accessed May 26, 2022).

[40] Who was Executed in 1988?” Rajanews, August 1 2020,

[41] National Public Prosecution Department of Sweden Indictment of Hamid Noury translated by Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, 2021, available:

[42] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), A/CONF.183/9, July 17, 1998, entered into force July 1, 2, art. 8.

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