June 2, 2017
Euronews: The London-based Amnesty International warned that Iranian authorities desecrate mass grave sites and destroy the forensic evidence of the 1980s executions.
In a statement released on Thursday 1st June, this human rights organization warned against the desecration inflicted by state agencies upon the mass graves of 1988 massacre victims in Ahvaz. Some construction work to widen the road running alongside the mass graves has given rise to the concerns about their destruction.
Justice for Iran had previously published some news indicating the discovery of a mass grave during some road widening works. The grave, shortly after the discovery, was covered up by municipality workers, and the project was resumed. According to Shadi Sadr, the JFI director, “in recent years, the authorities have caused much chagrin and suffering to the families of the 1988 massacre victims. They have deprived them of their right to bury their loved ones, and forced them to walk through piles of rubbish to visit their graves. Now they are going to destroy their resting places and wipe out their memories.”
Raha Bahreini, the lawyer and the Amnesty International’s researcher on Iran, provided more details in an interview with Euronews: “The mass grave site is located 3 km east of Behesht Abad cemetery in Ahvaz. It is believed to contain bodies of tens of political prisoners executed extrajudicially in the summer of 1988. The authorities covered the graves with concrete to prevent families from exhuming the bodies. The site recognizable through concrete structures over graves has been regularly subject to desecration. It is currently turned into a landfill of construction waste.”
“Photographic and video evidence obtained by Amnesty International and Justice for Iran show bulldozers working on a road widening project alongside the mass grave side. The Iranian authorities have made no official announcement about their plans. However, a construction worker notified families that concrete structure on the grave site would be razed to clear the area for a green space or a commercial development,” continued Amnesty International speaker.
Underlying the need to preserve the facts and evidence she said, “The mass graves are crime scenes that require professional forensic expertise to undertake exhumations and ensure preservation of evidence and accurate identification of bodies. By destroying the mass grave sites, the Iranian authorities are destroying vital forensic evidence that could one day be used to shed light on the number and identity of those killed in the summer of 1988. Amnesty International has warned that by taking steps to destroy mass graves, the Iranian authorities are attempting to destroy the forensic evidence of their crimes and violate the rights of victims’ families to truth, justice and reparation.”
Damaging graves occurred also in other cities such as Tehran and Mashhad. It is not clear if destructions are deliberate or accidental, as a result of lack of coordination among organizations. Raha Bahreini says, “Over the past three decades, the Iranian authorities have regularly desecrated the victims of the1988 massacre and referred to their place of burial as ‘La’natabad’ (damned land). Such desecrations tormented families of victims. The authorities have forbidden them from holding commemorative gatherings or decorating mass grave sites with memorial messages or tombstones. Amnesty International calls on the Iranian authorities that instead of attempting to cover up the past and obstruct justice, they must ensure that they are preserved and protected until proper, independent investigations can be carried out. Families are entitled to know what happened to their loved ones and bury them honourably.”
About obtaining information, Bahreini told Euronews: “Families of executed prisoners have been regularly prosecuted and intimidated by the authorities and their contact with Amnesty International puts them in danger. Amnesty International obtained data through reliable sources whose names remain confidential due to security reasons. We have also reviewed the photos and videos received by Justice for Iran. They clearly show that mass grave site in Ahvaz and other cities underwent desecration.”
Amnesty International is up to launch a campaign for ending violation of the rights of victims’ families. Raha Bahreini said, “Pursuant to this press statement, Amnesty international is going to start a campaign and urge Amnesty International members around the world to write letters to Iranian authorities and embassies. They are supposed to call for stopping justice obstruction, and guaranteeing families’ rights to truth, justice and reparation.”