December 18, 2016

A mass grave was discovered by wastewater workers in Tabriz in northwest Iran. On December 10, 2016, Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) uploaded a series of photographs and a video clip capturing the horrible site of human bones piled high on the ground and stuffed in burlap sacks.The footage also includes comments by the governor of Tabriz, asserting, “This doesn’t seem to be the site of a mass grave.” The governor did not have any other explanation for the human remains or any evidence to support his claim.

The skeletal remains could belong to political activists and dissidents who went missing nearly three decades ago. The 1980s saw the highest number of mass executions in Iran, particularly in August and September of 1988 when Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the wholesale killing of over 1,000 prisoners around the country.The most notable mass grave from that period was discovered in Khavaran cemetery, south of Tehran. 

While Iranian authorities have remained silent on the issue, Ayatollah Khomeini’s de facto successor, the late Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri, strongly condemned the killings at the time. A voice recording of Montazeri’s heated arguments with the members of the so-called “death squad” was made public in summer of 2016. It dispelled any doubt that existed regarding t the atrocities committed against Iranian citizens.

Iranian authorities have a legal and moral responsibility to identify the remains that have been unearthed in Tabriz and to determine their cause of death. The existence of a mass grave should be reason enough to urge local and state agencies to investigate the matter. Forensic pathologists should be tasked with determining the number, age and gender of the deceased, and if possible, return identified remains to their families.

The regime’s reluctance to address this dark chapter in its history, and its refusal to tell the truth about the summary executions sanctioned by the Islamic revolution’s founder, is in line with its ruthless nature. Only a public outcry can pressure the Iranian authorities to launch an investigation into the brutal murders and subsequent cover-ups.