Twenty-five years ago this month, 5,000 Iranian political prisoners were executed on the direct orders of the then-Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini.
Their crime? They were feminists, communists, socialists, students, Kurds, Baha’is, Ahwazi Arabs, Azeris and Baloch; all arrested for distributing leaflets and organizing protests against the Mullahs who had stolen the 1979 revolution against the autocratic monarchy of The Shah.
It was the summer of 1988. The exhausting eight-year long Iran-Iraq War was staggering to a close. With the UN distracted in drawing up a post-war ceasefire, Khomeini decided to wipe out the existence of any opposition. He issued a fatwa to execute all political prisoners who refused to accept his rule. After 10-minute mock trials, the condemned were the hung on cranes or shot by firing squads, with their bodies dumped in unmarked mass graves.
If Khomeini thought his crime would pass unnoticed in the fog of war, he was wrong. A quarter of a century later, the massacre conducted in the name of Islam and the Islamic Republic is still reverberating around the world.
On Wednesday, the Iranian massacre of 1988 will bring Canada’s government and opposition MPs together to make common cause with the people of Iran who still suffer under the brutal dictatorship of the Ayatollahs.
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, an international human rights lawyer, will be joined at a press conference by Paul Dewar of the NDP and the Conservative Party’s James Bezan. They will present a motion to the Commons condemning the mass murder of political prisoners in Iran in the summer of 1988 and label it as a “crime against humanity.” In addition, the motion will call to establish September 1 as a day of solidarity with political prisoners in Iran.
Behind this initiative is the “Massacre88 Campaign.” Their spokesman is Kaveh Shahrooz, a Toronto lawyer who lost his uncle Mehrdad in that massacre. Writing in the Ottawa Citizen last week, Shahrooz said:
“As a child, I’d sometimes visit him in prison and recall the signs of gruesome torture on his body. The authorities stopped our prison visits in the summer of 1988. After two months without news of him, my grandmother was called to the prison to collect Mehrdad’s few belongings ... my family has never truly recovered from that loss. My grandmother and mother have both passed away since then, both with the unfulfilled wish of seeing justice in Mehrdad’s case.”
Shahrooz is not alone. Millions of Iranians fled the country. Some came as refugees to Canada and still carry those scars.
Mehdi Kouhistani of the Canadian Labour Congress remembers his childhood friend Sadiq Riyahi, who, along with his brother, was hanged in 1988. “I miss my friend even today. He died a brave man. They say he was spared from those condemned to die, but when he saw his brother in the line-up of men being led to the firing squad, he leapt to his brother’s side and gave up his life in solidarity.”
Yet, there are those among us “Canadians” who last Sunday celebrated and honoured the mass murderer Ayatollah Khomeni at the Islamic Society of York Region, waving pictures of the horrid man Iranians label as their Hitler. Imagine an event in Canada to honour Augusto Pinochet or Pol Pot? Would anyone dare even attempt to do so?
As these pro-Khomeni Canadians went into the Mosque to celebrate the mass murderer, about 100 Iranian Canadians and their supporters picketed them, chanting slogans against Khomeini and the Islamic Republic. There were white and black, Jew and Muslim, Kurd and Baloch, all representing Canada’s true spirit.