The summer of 1988

A dark chapter in Iranian history

In the summer of 1988, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a decree sentencing thousands of political prisoners to death. Monireh Baradaran was a left-wing activist in prison at the time and witnessed her cellmates being picked up for execution. Interview by Farhad Payar

Why did the regime choose to carry out these mass executions in the summer of 1988 – why not sooner or later?

Monireh Baradaran: The so-called purges in Iranian prisons in the summer of 1988 were part of a strategy that the Islamists had been using since 1979, immediately after the revolution, to consolidate their Islamic system. It was a question of not allowing any dissent from the left, from the People's Mujahideen, or from party-politically neutral intellectuals in society. They were either executed, arrested, or driven into exile. Though altered in form, such practices are still going on.

Were the executions a spontaneous act on the part of the regime?

Baradaran: No, they were planned. Many prisoners had been separated from each other weeks before; some were even transferred to other prisons. One had the impression that something extraordinary, something terrible was imminent. It was just before the end of the eight-year war with Iraq. During that time, the Mujahideen, with the support of the Iraqi army, attacked Iran from Iraq in the hope of overthrowing the regime. Their attack was repulsed within three days. Seeking vengeance, the regime began to execute more prisoners belonging to the People's Mujahideen. The mass executions also provided an opportunity to get even with the left.

What attempts were made to legitimise these actions?

Baradaran: Ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree.

Is it known how many detainees were executed at that time?

Baradaran: More than 3,800 cases have been documented so far. About 90 percent of the victims belonged to the Mujahideen. The families of the executed never saw the bodies of their relatives.

Feminist and activist Monireh Baradaran (photo: DW)
The feminist and activist Monireh Baradaran has lived in Germany since 1991. Baradaran has made her prison memoirs available to the public. The book entitled "Erwachen aus dem Alptraum" has been translated into several languages

Were women and men treated in a similar way?

Baradaran: Left-wing women were subject to the religious commandment "ertedad" (apostasy). According to this commandment, women who fall away from the faith must be imprisoned until they repent or die. Many left-wing women were ordered to receive 25 lashes a day during prayer times. The whipping lasted as long as the prayer.  Mujahideen women were executed even though they were Muslim believers. In the tract where I was sitting, there were 44 mujahid women in total, all of whom were executed. There was a team of three in Tehran, the so-called "Death Commission". They asked the Mujahideen: "What do you think of the Islamic Republic? How do you feel about your organisation? If the prisoner said, "I am a mujahideen," it was enough to be executed.

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