Which of your fellow prisoners were executed?
Baradaran: They were all political prisoners, the majority of whom had been imprisoned since 1981 and had long since been sentenced. Many of them had served their sentences and should have been released. The majority still remained true to their political beliefs.
When and how did you first hear about the executions?
Baradaran: At the beginning of the second summer month, three Mujahideen supporters were collected from our wing for the first time. None of us had received a visiting permit for weeks, which worried us. The Mujahid women didn't come back and my instincts said something terrible had happened, because it was clear that they hadn't been released. But nobody knew what had happened to them. Only when we once again allowed to receive visitors, did we realise the full extent of the executions.
There has been a lot of investigation in recent decades to shed light on what happened that summer. What has been the outcome?
Baradaran: We owe a tremendous debt to the so-called "Mothers of Khavaran" (the mothers of the political prisoners killed in the mass executions). For years, through their meetings in the Khavaran cemetery (where many of the executed are buried in mass graves), in front of the Tehran Justice Department, and through open letters to those responsible, they kept on drawing attention to the mass executions, even ensuring their voices were heard abroad. Gradually other women joined them. They wanted and still want to know why their children, husbands or siblings were executed and where they are buried. These are questions that remain unanswered.
Various initiatives then kicked off abroad. Among other things, the Borumand Foundation commissioned British judge Geoffrey Robertson to research the case and prepare a legal opinion. He talked to survivors and contemporary witnesses, including myself, and announced in 2010 that the mass executions of the summer of 1988 could be described as crimes against humanity.
There was also a so-called Iran Tribunal, a Truth Commission...
Baradaran: Yes, consisting of several international judges who dealt with the issue and symbolically accused the Islamic Republic.
The role models who inspired the "Mothers of Khavaran" caused a stir internationally. Iʹm thinking of the mothers of disappeared political prisoners in Argentina and Turkey. Why didn't the "Mothers of Khavaran" receive the same attention as they did?
Baradaran: This is an important question for which I have no plausible answer. The mothers in Argentina were supported by the media and human rights activists in all continents, even by the Pope. Unfortunately, the "Mothers of Khavaran" have not received the same international support. Perhaps the black and white image of Iran in the media is a factor. Your either romanticise Iran or you show focus on the dark side. The fact that there is resistance and striving for justice, for which these several hundred mothers stand, does not really fit into this picture. Whatʹs more, the defence of human rights has become institutionalised – like for instance in Germany. We are no longer living in the 1970s or 1980s, when thousands of people took to the streets for democracy and human rights. Today, people prefer to sign petitions on the Internet.
Do you think that at some point these crimes will be exposed for all to see?
Baradaran: Definitely. Thanks to modern digital communications, especially via the social networks, more and more Iranians now know about these horrible events. In contrast to the 1980s, the mass executions of summer 1988 are no longer just a matter for the families of the executed, but for society as a whole. The younger generation is showing an interest in these political crimes. And this gives me hope – indeed certainty – that at some point in the foreseeable future these events will be subject to comprehensive clarification. For this to happen, however, we – the activists and the families of the executed – need the solidarity of the international community.
Interview conducted by Farhad Payar