Bring Iran’s mullahs to justice over the Evin massacre

Iranian women walk past a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on his 34th death anniversary - ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Iranian women walk past a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on his 34th death anniversary – ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Those who like to consider the worst way to die – for Montaigne, it was to be hung on the piano wire; for Orwell, being eaten by rats – no longer needs to torture their imagination. It was allegedly inflicted on young women in Evin prison and elsewhere in Iran in 1988. First the death sentence, then, according to some accounts, forced marriage and rape just before being hanged or shot, in order to deny them the fast track to heaven given to virgins in the mullahs’ distorted theology. When I investigated these prison massacres a few years ago, I heard about this horrible allegation, but dismissed it for lack of evidence. But I think there are good reasons to come back to it now.

Several thousand imprisoned opponents were killed at that time on the orders (a fatwa) of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Many were students, convicted years earlier of minor political offenses like participating in protests or distributing leaflets. Ebrahim Raisi, now president of Iran, reportedly sat on a ‘death committee’, which sentenced them to death without trial as ‘mohareb’ (enemies of God) for allegiance to groups opposed to the state or its religion. The entire episode reflects the contempt women still face in Iran, as recently demonstrated by its vicious morality police.

There’s no doubt that Raisi was aware of these stomach-turning practices. The knowledge can also be attributed to Ali Khamenei, President at the time and now Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. Of course, this was only the worst of a colossal crime against humanity as several thousand political prisoners were put to death. Their bodies were reportedly piled up in refrigerated trucks and secretly buried in a mass grave in cemeteries in Tehran, where even today the parents and loved ones of the victims cannot mourn them.

Iran made extraordinary efforts to cover up the crime. When news leaked at the time, a naïve reporter from an international agency was greeted in Evin with a marching band, where school-going prisoners claimed they were being treated well. It was only years later, with the publication of the diaries of a high-ranking mullah who reprimanded the death committee during its work in Evin, that the truth began to come out, but not about the fate of the women who were allegedly raped before their execution. The diaries also included a copy of the ruthless fatwa issued by the angry Ayatollah at having to sign a truce in the war with Iraq.

There is little chance of bringing the perpetrators to justice as long as the mullahs, whose cruel gender beliefs have contributed to the unbearable treatment of female prisoners, remain in power. An author who ventured abroad was arrested in Sweden and sentenced to life imprisonment last year. No doubt the Iranians are looking for a Swede whom they can falsely accuse of spying in order to exchange him for him. Belgium recently succumbed to Iranian blackmail and freed a diplomat sentenced to 20 years for planning a foiled bomb attack against an Iranian opposition group in exile. He was exchanged for a Belgian aid worker, sentenced in Iran for “espionage”.

Given the impunity of the mullahs, the best that can be done is to expose the extent of their crimes as an indication of the barbarity of which their government is capable – if, for example, they possess a nuclear bomb. We know how Hitler hanged the Stauffenberg plotters with a piano wire and how he gloated over a film of their agonies. We did not know until recently how a depraved regime killed hundreds of young women.

Geoffrey Robertson KC is the founding chef of Doughty Street Chambers and the author of ‘Ruthless mullahs

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