Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Zahra (Mehri) Karimian


Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam
Civil Status: Single


Date of Killing: 1988
Location: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Shooting
Charges: Counter revolutionary opinion and/or speech; War on God, God's Prophet and the deputy of the Twelfth Imam

About this Case

Ms. Zahra (Mehri) Karimian is among the 3208 members and sympathizers of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) whose execution was reported by the organization in a book entitled Crime Against Humanity. This book documents the 1988-89 mass execution of political prisoners. Additional information was drawn from the following sources:

1) An Omid Memorial electronic form filled in by one of Ms. Karimian’s former fellow inmates

2) The Bidaran website and the writings of Ms. Karimian’s former fellow inmate, Mina Entezari

3) An Omid Memorial electronic form filled in by one of Ms. Karimian’s acquaintances regarding her detention

Ms. Zahra Karimian was considered a politically active student before her arrest. Mina Entezari writes that while detained in the same ward as her sister Ma’sumeh (Shurangiz), Zahra was a tender caregiver to her sister who was in a lot of pain as a result of torture.

Arrest and detention

According to one of Ms. Zahra Karimian’s acquaintances, she and her sister took refuge in a sandwich shop during the conflicts of June 20, 1981. However, the guards found them there and sent both to Evin prison.

Ms. Zahra Karimian spent years in prison, mostly in the “punishment wards” and, since 1988, in the lower ward of the Asayeshgah (literally meaning “sanatorium”) section, where the cell doors were kept locked at all times. Inmates were taken to the bathroom three times in 24 hours and were given 30 minutes each time to use the toilet, shower, or wash their dishes or clothes as needed.

The demonstration of June 20, 1981, took place in protest against the parliament's impeachment of President Banisadr and the Islamic Republic systematic policy of excluding the MKO from the country’s political scene, the refusal of Ayatollah Khomeini to meet with MKO leaders and his insistence for them to disarm. The MKO had until then supported the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini and agreed to function within the framework of the new political system.

On June 20th, the Organization officially changed its policy and tried to overthrow the regime by organizing mass demonstrations, in which some of the demonstrators were armed, all over the country. These demonstrations, which were severely suppressed and resulted in the killing of dozens of demonstrators, were followed by a wave of mass arrests and executions by the Revolutionary Guards and para-military forces that targeted not only the MKO, but all other opposition groups. The massive repression, unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Republic, legitimized as official government policy the months-old state harassment and suppression of dissidents and resulted in the banning of all forms of independent political dissent.


According to her former fellow inmate, Ms. Karimian was sentenced to five or six years in prison in a trial held following her arrest. At the time of her execution, she had already completed her term but had remained in prison due to her objection to the extreme conditions which the prison officials had set forth for her release.

Specific details on the circumstances of the trials that led to the execution of Ms. Karimian and thousands of other individuals in 1988 are not known. According to the available information, the Iranian authorities did not try the victims of the 1988 mass execution in a court with in the presence of a defense lawyer. The prisoners who were executed in 1988 had been questioned by a three-member special committee, composed of a religious judge, a representative of the Intelligence Ministry, and the Tehran Prosecutor. The committee questioned the leftist prisoners about their beliefs and their faith in God and religion.

The relatives of political prisoners executed in 1988 refute the legality of the judicial process that resulted in thousands of executions throughout Iran. In their 1988 open letter to then Minister of Justice Dr. Habibi, they argue that the official secrecy surrounding these executions is the proof of their illegality. They note that an overwhelming majority of these prisoners had been tried and sentenced to prison terms, which they were either serving or had already completed serving, at the time they were retried and sentenced to death.


No charge has been publicly leveled against the victims of the 1988 massacre. In their letters to the Minister of Justice (1988), and to the UN Special Rapporteur visiting Iran (February 2003), the families of the victims refer to the authorities’ accusations against the prisoners; accusations that may have led to their execution. These accusations include being “counter-revolutionary, anti-religion, and anti-Islam,” as well as being “associated with military action or with various [opposition] groups based near the borders.”

An edict of the Leader of the Islamic Republic, reproduced in the memoirs of Ayatollah Montazeri, his designated successor, corroborates the reported claims regarding the charges against the executed prisoners. In this edict, Ayatollah Khomeini refers to the MKO members as “hypocrites” who do not believe in Islam and “wage war against God” and decrees that prisoners who still approve of the positions taken by this organization are also “waging war against God” and should be sentenced to death.

Evidence of guilt

No information is available regarding the evidence presented against the defendant.


In their open letter, the families of the prisoners note that defendants were not given the opportunity to defend themselves in court. Against the assertion that prisoners were associated with guerillas operating near the borders, the families submit the isolation of their relatives from the outside during their detention: “Our children lived in most difficult conditions. Visits were limited to 10 minutes behind a glass divider through a telephone every two weeks. We witnessed during the past seven years that they were denied access to anything that would have allowed them to establish contacts outside their prisons walls.” Under such conditions the families reject the claim of the authorities that these prisoners were able to engage with any political group outside Iran.


The details of the verdict are not available. Ms. Zahra (Mehri) Karimian was executed along with her sister in the summer of 1988.

The date November 29 given by the book Crime Against Humanity as the date of Ms. Karimian’s execution is inaccurate, according to two of her former fellow inmates who stated that executions had stopped by then and inmates were allowed visitors. Most probably, November 29 is the date on which Ms. Karimian’s family received the news of her execution.

Based on the available information, prison officials delivered the news of these prisoners’ execution along with their belongings to their families months later, but their bodies were never released. Prisoners were buried in mass graves. The officials warned the families against holding any commemorative ceremonies for their loved ones.

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