1988 Mass Execution of Political Prisoners in Mashhad, A Testimony
Following its efforts to document the massacre of the summer of 1988 in different cities in Iran, Bidaran has conducted an interview with Reza Fani Yazdi which you can read below. Mr. Fani Yazdi was a prisoner in Mashhad in 1988.
Mr. Fani, in which prison were you held during the summer of ’88?
I was in Mashhad at that time. Usually, they transferred us to the public prison of Mashhad (Vakilabad Prison) once interrogations were done and we were ready for trial. A new section specifically for political prisoners was created in Vakilabad Prison a few years after the Revolution. The section consisted of three wards, Ward 1, Ward 2, and Ward 3, each with their own quarantines, locked rooms, solitary confinements, and “storages.” During the massacre of ’88, many of my friends and I were in Ward 2.
During this time, did you notices any changes in the behavior of the prison officials and guards? What changes and when did they begin?
No change was discernible in the guards. Everything was normal until the day the operation known as Forugh e Javidan [Eternal Light, a military attack launched from Iraqi territory against the Islamic Republic’s army], that had been launched by the Mojahedin [armed Islamic revolutionary opposition group based in Iraq], was crushed. Their defeat was announced on television, accompanied by images of dead Mojahed fighters in Eslamabad e Gharb, by the sides of the road to Kermanshah, and in other Western parts of the country. Their half-burnt vehicles were shown abandoned on the sides of the roads, and a considerable number of Mojaheds were shown to have been captured, some terrified and expressing repentance. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was a few days after Khomeini had reluctantly accepted the Resolution 598 to end the Iran-Iraq war, saying that it felt like drinking a “cup of poison.” Then everything changed: It was night, after lights out, when we at Ward 2 heard our names being read over the loudspeakers. They took us out to the main corridor connecting all the wards, blindfolded us, and sat us facing the walls. They gave us some papers with a few questions on them, like:
which political movement we belonged to and in connection with what movement we were arrested,
what we thought of the Islamic Republic,
if any of our relatives had been executed or lived abroad,
and a few other questions that I don’t remember. After we wrote our responses, they collected the papers and took us back to the ward. Things took an unusual course from that point on.
In this period, was all communication between the prison and the outside world cut off? Like stopping the visits, newspapers, letters, and television?
The very next day, our connection with the outside world was completely cut off. The TV sets were taken out. Newspapers were not allowed in our ward anymore. We stopped receiving visits and even letters from families. Not even police officials were allowed to visit the wards. The physician who came once a week to examine and treat the guys [prisoners] was no longer allowed to set foot in our ward. No one was allowed to leave the ward for any reason, not even to seek medical assistance at the prison’s infirmary, and in fact the whole ward turned into the ultimate quarantine.
Do you remember when the first group of prisoners were taken out and never returned?
They took the first group of nine guys the very next day after the interrogations. Some were from the quarantine and a few from Ward 2, and they never returned.
In how many sets did they take the prisoners out?
From Mashhad Prison, if I remember correctly, they took prisoners in three sets. The first group was that initial group of nine that they took out the very next day after the collective interrogation following the defeat of the Mojahedin’s operation.
The second group, which consisted of at least 100 individuals, was taken out a few days later. Again they started reading the names over the loudspeakers. Then they took them out one by one. The ward was nearly half empty.
A week later, they took out the third group. Again the names were read out over the loudspeakers. In this set, almost all the Mojaheds from Ward 2 were taken out.
The ward was left nearly empty. The only ones remaining were either members of leftist groups or Baha’is [a persecuted religious minority], who occupied two rooms . There were altogether less than 25 individuals total. The leftists, we were 80 individuals tops.
From a Ward of 400 inmates, only about 100 were left.
Where did you guess they were taken?
We didn’t know. There was no guessing. There had been no plans for transfers or no mention of relocation that we had heard of. But usually when they called someone out of Ward 2, no more than two options existed: Either they were transferred to Ward 3, quarantine rooms, solitary confinements, and storages, or they were taken to the Intelligence Ministry detention center which was actually the former location of the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Office on Kuhsangi Street in Mashhad. One could obviously guess that 300 people did not fit in Ward 3 and its quarantine and solitary cells, so they must have been taken to the Intelligence Ministry detention center. But no one knew for sure where the inmates were being taken or what tragedy was unfolding.
Who was on the Commission that determined the fate of prisoners in your city? Did they come from the capital or were they local officials?
We had no clue about the whole thing. We did not know what was going on. We had no information about the composition of the Commission either. No one who had been taken from our group had returned to tell us what the Commission looked like.
Even when, after a few months, the detainees were again allowed visitors and some of the survivors of the tragic massacre were returned to the ward, we, meaning me and some of my friends who had been transferred to the quarantine, never got a chance to see them to find out about the Commission.
Just a few days after they had taken out the third group of our guys for execution, they called the names of another 23 of us and transferred us from Ward 2 to the quarantine. They, then, took the rest to Ward 1. The assistant prosecutor who had run into one of the guys in the corridor had told him offhandedly that they were going to be the next group: “The next time the Commission comes to Mashhad, it’s gonna send you guys off to hell as well.” These are the exact words that Haji Valipur, a young clerical student and the acting assistant prosecutor for the political prisoners’ ward, expressed to our friend.
So it must have been a Commission that came to Mashhad and decided who was to be executed. The composition of the Commission, as far as I know and heard after my release from some of the former inmates who had been returned to Ward 1, was the same as the Commission that had operated in Evin and had apparently traveled to many provinces. I heard the names of Purmohammadi, Eshraqi, and Nayyeri. But the local officials had played a major role in selecting the guys to be executed and had probably facilitated many of the executions. From Ayatollah Montazeri’s memoir, it seems that provincial officials played a vital role in the decision making of the Commission. At that time, Hojatoleslam Moghisi was the Religious Judge of Revolutionary Tribunals, and Valipur, the residing assistant prosecutor of the prison, and probably Mohammad Shakuri, the official in charge of the ward, had participated in decision making along with the main Commission. One of the 26 people who had faced the Commission and returned said that most of the guys who survived the Commission confirmed that Moghisi and Valipur were on it.
Do you know what questions they were asked?
As far as I have heard from the survivors, apparently the Commission asked the same general questions that were asked in other prisons: What movement do you support? If they said Mojahedin or simply the Organization (at that time, most of the Mojaheds were reluctant to refer to their organization as the Monafegin, or “Hypocrites Organization,” so they just said “the Organization,” and a few said Mojahedin), they would be automatically sent for execution and no more questions were asked. They asked those who said Monafegin whether they condemned the organization, or the Forugh e Javidan (Eternal Light) operation, and whether they were willing to be interviewed and speak out against the organization on television. If they didn’t, they would be executed.
The goal of the Commission in Mashhad had apparently been to execute prisoners as much as possible. One of our friends recounts that he had heard the voice of one of the guys crying in the corridor as he was being taken for execution, swearing against the Organization and calling it the Hypocrites and saying that he would go on television and denounce it, begging the guards to spare him for the sake of his wife and his two small children. They executed him. He was a close friend of my brother-in-law, Amin Nejati, and he had almost finished his prison term at that time and was about to be released. I won’t mention his name here because his family may not want his name to be disclosed.
What was the method of execution in your city in the summer of ’88?
It was collective hanging. Apparently they would hang the guys in groups of six right in the courtyard of the Intelligence Ministry detention center on Kuhestan [Kuhsangi?] Street.
Were any women executed? Do you remember any of their names?
I have no information about women. In Mashhad prison, a large number of women and girls were supporters of the Organization and other movements, but I don’t know if any of them were executed.
Had all the people who were executed already been sentenced to prison? Were there individuals among them who had already finished their term? Do you remember their names?
All the people who were taken for execution had already been sentenced to prison. But most of them had already served their terms. Many of the guys who were executed had spent time in prison in excess of seven years.
Some had been pardoned and had only a few months left to serve. There were also a few who had finished their term but remained in prison, which we called “melli-kesh,” or “nationalized victims.” One such prisoner was Jalil Sufizadeh whose term had been finished for months and still they wouldn’t release him. There were others whose faces I remember but whose names I have unfortunately forgotten.
Did they execute anyone from the Left in your prison?
No one from the Left was executed. In fact, those who had been arrested for connections with the Left were never made to face the Death Commission in Mashhad Prison. The 23 of us who were put in the quarantine were supposed to be sent to the Intelligence Office next, which apparently never happened due to Ayatollah Montazeri’s loud objections to the executions. The executions eventually stopped as a result and we were saved. But there were quite a few inmates among the Mojahedin who were no longer supporters of the Organization and had become leftists, but still they were executed. Alireza Aminian was one of them. He had been a leftist for a number of years and did not pray or anything, and though he had remained friends with the Organization guys, his affiliation was with the Left. Mohammad Heidarieh was another one of the Organization guys who had Left-leaning tendencies and pretty much everyone in the ward knew that he was no longer with the Organization. There were many others who had basically lost their belief in the Organization, and even though they did not publicly announce their position, their loyalties clearly did not lie with the Organization. Alireza Aminian, Mohammad Heidarieh, and many others were, nevertheless, executed.
How did they treat you? Did they summon you? Did they pressure you to perform prayers at the time?
As I said, we did not face the Commission. We were only sent to the quarantine. Nobody bothered with us in the quarantine. As we did not perform prayers in the ward, so we did not perform prayers in the quarantine. And nobody cared. In the quarantine, there weren’t even any repentant inmates to report to the authorities on what we did and what went on.
When did things go back to “normal” and the executions stop?
We were in the quarantine and had no clue about what went on outside. It was only at the time of the first visits, I believe in mid to late November, that we learned what had been going on. Anybody we asked about had been executed. It was then that we realized what great danger had passed us. Things never went back to normal from them on, but the visits pretty much resumed course. Not so much like before, but we did receive visitors. There were no newspapers or TV. This went on until we were released directly from the same room that was supposed to be our gateway to hell, as Valipur had said. Except for two, everyone from our 23-person group in the quarantine was released in March 1989. The other two were sent to Ward 1 and released a year later.
How did they notify the families? Is it clear where the executed were buried?
In Mashhad, as far as I know, they didn’t notify anybody. The families were waiting for their children outside the prison, prosecution office, or intelligence office for weeks and months. No one wanted to believe that his or her loved one had been executed. For months they would tell the families that the children had been “sent off.” To where, it was not clear. My brother-in-law, Amin Nejati Moharrami, was among the executed. For months they told my sister that he was not executed, only sent off to somewhere. Some said to an island where drug addicts were said to have been sent shortly after the Revolution. Sometimes they said, “Don’t worry, they will come back.” To my knowledge, nobody in Mashhad received their loved one’s belongings, or their wills, after execution.
The father of one of my friends, both of whose children were executed, was an employee of the Mashhad Municipality. The head of the Behesht e Reza Cemetery morgue, who knew him, had apparently contacted him from the morgue and said, “We have two kids here both of whom have your last name.” They were both later buried in the “The Cursed Land,” a section of the cemetery designated for the executed. This father was apparently among the first to learn about the tragedy, and little by little the news spread to the other families. But many were still in denial.
They did not disclose the place of burial to any of the families. But the cemetery section known as the “Cursed Land” is probably where most of the kids were buried. It is the only place the families know to go to cry for their children and loved ones, still every week, imagining that it is where their loved ones once rested their heads, full of youthful aspirations, on the chest of the cold earth.
Do you know if any of the families of those executed in your city made any attempts to obtain information about the fate of their children?
The father of Bahram Parandeh, one of the Mojahedin guys, had gone to the prosecution office and said that if they didn’t tell him where his son was he would kill himself. Moghisi, the Religious Judge, had told him, “No matter, go ahead and kill yourself!” So the father had jumped out of the window and died.
Can you name the individuals who were executed in your city in the summer of ’88? – Of course besides the ones that you have already mentioned above.
Many were executed. At least 300 individuals were taken from Ward 2 alone. Of that number, only 26 returned. The names of the executed are published in different lists of victims of the national tragedy. I don’t remember many of the names right now. But many of my good friends of many years were executed:
- Amin Nejati Moharrami – my brother-in-law
- Mohammadreza Sa’idi – my best friend from highschool
- Ali Sa’idi (Mohammadreza Sa’idi’s brother) – arrested at age 15, continued his education and received his highschool diploma in prison
- Ja’far Bahremand – Ward 2 representative for a long time
- Navid Amuzgar – first person to be taken from our ward
- Javad Nasiri – fencing champion
- Mohammad Heidarieh – arrested at age 16 and Left-leaning towards the end
- Hosein Heidarieh (Mohammad Heidarieh’s brother)
- Jalil Sufizadeh – had finished his prison term but was still kept (“melli-kesh”)
- Jalil Sufizadeh’s little brother whose name I do not remember – arrested at age 15
- Shahram Marjavi – from Azerbaijan and a close relative of Ayatollah Musavi Ardebili, head of High Judicial Council at the time
- Gholamreza Mohammadi –spent several months together at the “storage” before the Forugh e Javidan (Eternal Light) operation. Was transferred to Tehran before the arrival of the Death Commission and was executed there
- Mohammad Sevizi – what fond memories; he used to joke that the well-known economist Paul Sweezy was his cousin! From Seviz, a village near Shandiz in the outskirts of Mashhad
- Javad Keshavarz –arrested at age 16
- Ebrahim Khalili –Physics teacher
- Esmail Khalili (Ebrahim Khalili’s brother)
- Ahmadzadeh (don’t remember his first name)
- Hasan Ghafuri –arrested at age 16
- Khalil Movaddi –from Birjand. Was Ward Representative for a while and had a warm, beautiful voice
- Sadeq Khaza’i –arrested at age 14. Escaped the country during a break after 4 years in prison, but was re-arrested and executed when the Organization sent him to Iran for a mission
- Ali Ahmadi
- Ahmad Zolfi
- Ja’far Qamsarian
- Ali Mirshahi –arrested at age 17. Was released after two years, then re-arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison
- Jalal Asadpur
- Abbas Safdari
- Abolfazl Safdari –first rank soccer player for Abumoslem Soccer Team in the province of Khorasan. Had won the highschool soccer championship of the province. Had been arrested and released before he was re-arrested and executed
- Mehdi Tolu’i
- Siamak Ramezanian –arrested at age 17. From Quchan and transferred to Mashhad along with the rest of the Quchan kids
- Hamid Riyazi –from Dargaz, best friends with Ja’far Hashemi
- Ja’far Hashemi –first person to be executed during this period at Evin. Had spent four years in solitary confinement in Mashhad, and then a year (1987) with me in the “storage” before he was transferred to Evin. Was the only one who officially defended the Mojahedin in Mashhad Prison. His mother, who was close friends with Ayatollah Khamene’i’s wife, had personally given him away. They said she later suffered from severe depression. Ja’far’s brother, Mahmud, was also with us in the same ward for a while. Don’t know what happened to him
- Mohammad Bihamta
- Mohsen Attaran –also re-arrested after having been released for a number of years
- Majid Akbarian –one of the athletes from Quchan, and very handsome. Also arrested at age 17 (“melli-kesh”}
- Mohammad Feiz –from Sabzevar. Was done serving his term but was kept over
- Kazem Farsi –was older than most of us, married with kids
- Mohammad Fani Disfani –arrested at age 17, from Sabzevar
- Javad Karimi
- Mohsen Seyyedi
- Ahmad Zolfi
- Mehdi Rahili
- Hamidreza Shahpar Tusi
- Morteza Qarachei
- Mehdi Qarai –married with kids
- Alireza Jadidian
- Mehdi Hasanabadi
- Ali Fakharzadeh
- Yadollah Qashqayi –from Neyshabur. Was arrested around the same time as me. Spent a few months together in a cell at the Revolutionary Guards detention center
- Abolfazl Lashkari –had blood disorder and was frequently taken to the hospital. Was said to be the only child of his old single mother
- Mehdi Hoseinpur
- Mohammad Qane’ Shater Hoseini
- Mohammad Mashhadi Reza
- Gholamreza Naqipur –had been active abroad. Very polite and very hardheaded. Usually hung out more with the leftist guys than with the Mojaheds. Gholamreza was in fact a leftist, but they had arrested him as a Mojahed. 32 or 33 years of age
- Mas’ud Vakili –arrested in Quchan at age 16. Chubby and cheerful. One of the first to be arrested in 1981
- Ebrahim Oruji –from Quchan. Tall, athletic, and very handsome. Around my age
- Hamid Nirumand
- Mohammad Moqaddam –one of the youngest inmates in Mashhad, arrested at age 15. Had been taken for execution a few times in ’81, even tied to a tree in front of the firing squad, but been taken back every time while others standing next to him had been shot down
- Asghar Movaqar
- Ali Masih
- Ali Fakharzadeh
- Ali Goli
- And many others whose names I unfortunately no longer remember.