March 4, 2018
In Khuzestan Province, there is a scrapyard in the IRGC Quds Garrison compound beside the Karkheh River that is likely to be the location of a mass grave, belonging to the victims who were executed by firing squad during the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 1988 massacre.
On 30 July 1988, the political prisoners at Dezful’s prison were summoned to the Prosecutor’s Office. The prison was known as UNESCO Prison, since the building used to be where UNESCO operated before the 1979 revolution. After it no longer belonged to UNESCO, it became a club for educators, and in 1979 it was turned into a prison. Today, this place is named Khaneh Mo’allem (Teachers’ House) and is run by the Education Ministry.
[caption:] One of the entrances to UNESCO Prison in Dezful
Mohammad Reza Ashough was arrested in 1986 on charges of having relations with the Mujahedin, and he was sentenced to ten years in prison, despite his consistent denial of his charges and lack of any evidence supporting them. He remembers the events of July 30th as follows:
‘On 30 July 1988, we were told that a committee is here to pardon the prisoners. We were lined up the same day and taken to the prison yard. There were many of us. My guess is that there were around 80 to 100 prisoners. The first eight of us were taken to the prison office and made to sit on seats. We were blindfolded. We had no lawyer, no right to defend ourselves and no jury.
We’d already been sentenced to imprisonment by the Prosecutor and this same committee, and a few years of our sentences had passed. According to their own laws, there shouldn’t have been any more trials. They’d said this would be a pardoning committee, and they wanted to pardon us, which of course we didn’t believe. They started with us, one by one; we’d lift the blindfold. There were a couple people who lifted their blindfolds before me and answered them. One was Taher Ranjbar, and the other, Mohammad Anoushe. They asked them, ‘Are you willing to fight in the war with Iraq?’ The two said yes, we’d fight in the war. They said ‘Mujahedin are attacking now. Are you willing to go to war with Mujahedin?’ They said ‘No, we have prison sentences, we can’t go.’
Then, it was my turn, and they told me to remove my blindfold. Mohammad Hossein Ahmadi and the Sharia Judge, Alireza Avaei. There was also Shamsoddin Hassan Kazemi; Hardavaneh, the prison’s warden; the head of intelligence; another clergy member; Tavassoli; and Kafshgiri, head of the IRGC were all sat down. There were some IRGC members, too.
[He] asked if I’m Muslim. I said, ‘Yes, I am a Muslim. My father has said that we’re Muslims.’ He asked, ‘If you’re a Muslim, would you fight for Islam?’ I said I don’t know. He asked, ‘Would you fight for Iran?’ I said, ‘Yes, I would fight for Iran. If something happened to Iran, I would fight for it.’ He said, “If they attack our country now, would you go [fight]?’ I said if it’s necessary, and if I’m free, yes, I would fight. He said, ‘You said you’re Muslim. Are you prepared to step on a landmine for Islam?’ I said, ‘What kind of question is that? Who’d be crazy enough to do that? Must I step on a landmine, because I say I’m Muslim?’
The two of them had an argument between themselves and regretted asking that question. He then said, the PMOI have attacked Kermanshah and asked if I’d fight against them. I said, ‘No, I have a prison sentence, so I won’t be fighting anyone.’ The intelligence officer said to write my name on that list and that was the end. There were two lists in front of him with names on them. He said to put me in the list for executions. He put me on the list and told me to pull down my blindfold. And I did so. After me, there were Ahmad Assekh, Behzadi, Khavvareh and some others. They talked for about a minute and they passed their verdict. We found out later that they gave death sentences. So, we realised that list had the names of those who are to be executed.’
Annex 157 of the memoir of Hosseinali Montazeri, the then deputy leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, describes how death sentences were issued for Dezful prisoners, specifically for Mohammad Reza Ashough, Taher Ranjbar, Mostafa Behzadi, and Ahmad Assekh. This annex contains a letter to Montazeri from Ahmadi-Shahroudi, the Sharia Judge of Khuzestan’s Islamic Revolutionary Court, which can be read in-full below:
‘In His High Name
His Excellency Grand Ayatollah Imam Khomeini
My humble greetings. I would like to bring to his Excellency’s attention an issue regarding your recent decree about Monafeqin. Admitting that I am lower than someone who would speak on this matter, as required by my religious duties and the serious responsibility I have been given in deciding this matter, and in a bid to seek your guidance, I would like to point out that when it comes to [deciding] whether a person has a position of nefaq or is persistent in their support of Monafeqin, various interpretations are being made, and different opinions and styles exist between the extremes, which I have explained in detail to Haj Ahmad and will refrain from repeating it here. For instance, in Dezful, several prisoners named Taher Ranjbar, Mostafa Behzadi, Ahmad Assekh, and Mohammad Reza Ashough, condemned the Monafeqin, and were willing to participate in any interviews or exposing [Monafeqin] on radio or television or express their views before other prisoners. But when asked by the Intelligence [Ministry] representative if they would fight in war for the side of Islamic Republic right now that you claim the Islamic Republic is right, and Monafeqin are not, some expressed doubts and some refused. The Intelligence representative said that they are still holding on to their views, since they are not willing to fight for the rightful regime. I told him, would that not mean that the majority of the Iranian people who are not willing to go to the war fronts are monafeq? He replied that these are different from the public. In any case, by majority vote, the aforementioned were all convicted, except for the latter who escaped on the way to the execution. Therefore, I would like to ask you, if deemed necessary, to set a clear criteria for this matter so that mistakes and extremist actions would not befall the executive officials.
Mohammad Hossein Ahmadi
Sharia Judge, Islamic Revolutionary Court of Khuzestan’
One day later, on 31 July 1988, more than 40 prisoners including at least three women, were transferred in two minibuses to the Valiasr Garrison, which was in use during the Iran-Iraq war. This place now belongs to the IRGC and is known as the Quds Garrison.
Quds Garrison, March 2016, Photo source: Dezmehrab website
They forced the prisoners to wash themselves in the Garrison’s shower rooms, performing their own religious rituals of washing the dead, and then forced them to wear burial shrouds. Mohammad Reza Ashough, the sole survivor of that incident, testifies:
‘I was taken to somewhere like a cell but with a shower. He told me to open my eyes. I opened my eyes. He told me to shower but not put my clothes back on, and that they’ll give me a shroud. I said that I refuse to take a shower and perform the washing of the dead on myself. He told me that I have to shower and discard my clothes. After I showered, I put my own clothes back on again. I could hear other people’s voices. The women’s voices could be heard. I recognized Fatemeh Ghalavand and Shahin Heydari. They were calling their own names very loudly. Parviz said aloud ‘I am Parviz Sangar.’ Everybody said their names.
I looked at the wall. Someone had written ‘Valiasr Garrison, I’m a Basiji from Mashhad’. A Basiji had written on these walls with charcoal. That’s how I realized we are at Karkheh’s garrison.
I looked up and I saw there was a big window above my head. I wanted to escape from that window. I had put my clothes back on. I saw Gholam, the old man who was handing out food, and he gave me a shroud through the window and said, ‘This shroud is yours. Take it and don’t put your clothes back on.’ The shroud was a two-piece white cloth. He said this cloth has two pieces. I took it and immediately threw it on the ground. A couple minutes later, he appeared again and gave us cedar and camphor [for the washing of the dead ritual]. That’s when everyone got mad and started insulting them for bringing them cedar and camphor.
I wanted to escape through the window, but I started to have doubts, thinking there must be guards surrounding this place. I kept thinking as I was standing there, until Kazemi came and asked if I had performed the ritual. I said no. He asked if I wore a shroud. I said no. That’s when they got involved. They told me to turn my back and tied my hands with a rope. There were many. They tied everyone’s hands in the back with a plastic rope. They blindfolded me and then started beating me. Now they were beating me four or five at a time. I was defending myself. I had decided not to surrender. Then, they dragged me to the yard. I was on the ground when I saw from under the blindfold that there are seven or eight of them standing right above my head. People were screaming. I was yelling, ‘what gives you the right, on what charges,’ and so on and so forth. After that, Kazemi said execute this one in his own clothes, it doesn’t matter. Then they threw me in the minibus, and they came, too. It took a while before other prisoners did the washing, wore the shrouds and were brought onboard.
They started bringing other prisoners in shrouds. In the minibus, I saw from under the blindfold that they were wearing the two-piece shrouds, one around their waists, and one around their upper bodies.
After all that beating and being dragged on the ground, the ties around my wrists had become loose. As I was sitting there in the minibus, I shook my hands and the ties became undone. I untied my hands but didn’t move them. I moved the blindfold up a little bit by using the back of the seat in front of me. I kept looking as I saw two armed guards in the front rows of the minibus. I didn’t move. The minibus was still not moving. I told Sadegh that I untied my hands and I want to escape. Then, I told Hojjat (Ghalavand), too. Sadegh said, ‘If you can go, go.’ I knew without a doubt, that I should escape. I waited until all came on the bus in their shrouds. And the minibuses started to move.’
Ashough threw himself out of the window on the minibus during the night. Despite the officials trying to shoot him, he managed to escape the Garrison into the nearby deserts.
Andimeshk’s football team in Khuzestan’s Provincial Games, Standing fourth from right is Mohammad Reza Ashough. Mohammad Sagvandi (Kaydi), who is also in this photo, was executed in 1982.
Mohammad Reza Ashough heard the firing squad as he was escaping on the dawn of August 1st. He says about the whereabouts of the bodies:
‘My guess is that the bodies weren’t moved, they were buried right where they were executed in the Garrison’s scrapyard. There are rumours from the families of IRGC agents, placing the location of the bodies here. Some Basiji paramilitary forces have suggested that photography in this area is forbidden, because the PMOI are buried here.’
Despite all this, Iranian authorities announced different places in different cemeteries as burial sites to the families, after informing them of the executions. As Ashough explains,
‘The families of Mohammadreza Behzadi and Ahmad Assekh went to Roudvand Cemetery, the area where Avaei and the Prosecutor pointed him to after five months, as the burial site. They excavated the area at night. They hired a grave digger and dug that area up—four meters by four meters–and found nothing. They complained to the Prosecutor’s Office. They told them that they’re buried by the Soosangerd road. But they’re lying. Avaei is still lying. There’s no such site on Soosangerd road. They wouldn’t have travelled 250 km just to bury the bodies. I doubt they took the bodies very far. Unfortunately, it is still not clear where they are buried, and there are just speculations.’
The area is exclusively accessible to IRGC forces. Civilians, including the families of the executed prisoners, are prohibited from entering the Garrison.