Recent statements by Mostafa Pourmohammadi, advisor to Iran’s head of the judiciary, defending the mass extrajudicial executions of 1988 is a stark reminder of the sense of impunity that senior officials linked to the killings enjoy, Amnesty International (AI) said Tuesday, July 30.
A former minister of justice, Pourmohammadi was a member of a mid-ranking clergy quartet who ordered the execution of thousands of prisoners who were serving their sentences in 1988.
The four, known as the “death quartet,” had a blank cheque from the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to send thousands of inmates to the gallows.
Pourmohammadi, who served as President Hassan Rouhani’s Minister of Justice (2013-2017), recently defended the Death Quartet’s decisions.
The majority of the inmates sent to the gallows were members of an armed dissident group, Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO).
Before the mass executions, MKO forces, supported by Iraqi army led by Saddam Hussain, had invaded Iran but were immediately routed in the western parts of the country.
Speaking to the weekly Mossallass (Triangle), 59-year-old Pourmohammadi insisted that he should not be held accountable for the mass executions of summer of 1988. Instead, he blamed the Death Quartet’s victims, asserting that all remaining members of the dissident group, Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) should also be held responsible, tried, and punished.
The country was “at war,” and therefore there should be no legal procedures or processes regarding the rights of the people, Pourmohammadi argued, adding, the MKO is the Islamic Republic’s “worst kind of enemy” because they have destroyed the regime’s “image” across the world. He also maintained that the MKO has been responsible for everything that has happened against the regime over the past forty years.
Meanwhile, according to AI, “The mass executions did not only target prisoners with MKO ties; hundreds affiliated with leftist and Kurdish opposition groups were among the victims.”
Earlier, Pourmohammadi had described the Death Quartet decisions as “God’s orders”, affirming that he was proud of carrying out the divine verdict.
Deploring Pourmohammadi’s remarks, AI reiterated in its Tuesday statement, “Defending the mass extrajudicial executions of 1988 provide shocking confirmation of the [Islamic Republic] authorities’ willful flouting of international human rights law both at the time and now and a stark reminder of the sense of impunity that senior officials linked to the killings enjoy.”
Furthermore, AI said it was particularly concerned about comments by Pour Mohammadi accusing those advocating for truth and accountability of “terrorism” and “collusion” with Iran’s geopolitical enemies, and warning that they shall face prosecution.
“These comments, coupled with the appointment, in March 2019, of Ebrahim Raeesi, who, like Pourmohammadi, was involved in the mass extrajudicial executions of 1988, to the position of the head of Iran’s Judiciary, put survivors, family members of those executed and human rights defenders at increased risk of harassment and persecution simply for seeking truth and justice,” AI said.
However, Ebrahim Raeesi, who was another member of the Death Quartet, along with Pourmohammadi, and two other clergymen, has denied his role in the mass executions.
Raeesi has repeatedly claimed that the death verdict for the inmates in 1988 had already been issued by the relevant revolutionary courts and upheld by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Court.
The exact number of inmates executed in 1988 remains known. Nevertheless, in his memoirs, the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has put the number between 2800 to 3800.
Montazeri, once the designated successor to Khomeini as Supreme Leader, had a falling-out with him in 1989 over state policies, including the mass extrajudicial execution of prisoners who were serving their terms.
Referring to the mass executions, AI has noted in its statement, “The international community must explore concrete pathways to truth and justice, with a view to ensuring that those suspected of responsibility are prosecuted in fair trials without imposition of the death penalty and to providing families of victims with reparations in accordance with international standards.”
Current and former Iranian officials must not be allowed to shield themselves from accountability for the mass extrajudicial executions through campaigns of disinformation and threats of reprisals against anyone looking to shed light on them, AI has concluded.