Justice for Iran, 18 September 2018: What happens when a government ignores its citizens’ demands for truth and accountability for nearly forty years? While the Islamic Republic of Iran’s officials appear to be conducting an experiment to find the answer—an exercise in quiet impunity, Jafar Behkish is keeping a litigious vigil of resistance.
For almost four decades, the Iranian regime has been ignoring public outcry about state violence against Iranian citizens during the 1980s, a decade-long atrocity which culminated in the 1988 Prison Massacre. In the late-summer of 1988, thousands of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were summarily tried, executed, and buried in unmarked mass graves by the state’s authorities. Some of the actors responsible for these crimes against humanity are still holding public offices in Iran today.
Human rights defender, Jafar Behkish is steadfastly reminding the Iranian government that justice is overdue. One year ago, Mr. Behkish complained to the Prosecutor’s Office that at least thirty authorities had a role in the massacres and enforced disappearances of the ‘80s and that these perpetrators must be indicted.
When his complaint was left unaddressed, Mr. Behkish took to writing letters to Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, as well as Sadegh Larijani, the Head of Judiciary. On four occasions, he sent copies to the Islamic Republic’s UN envoy in Geneva, the last of which was never accepted by the recipient. In his letters, recently made available to the public by him, he reminds them of the Islamic Republic’s obligation to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and of the President’s duty to uphold Iran’s Constitution. Calling for an open and independent investigation under UN supervision into the crimes against humanity committed during the ‘80s, Mr. Behkish points to the ordeal of his own family, which began then, with the murders and enforced disappearances of his relatives.
Six members of Jafar Behkish’s family were unlawfully detained and tried, tortured, murdered and forcibly disappeared by the Iranian regime. The surviving members of his family are systematically being persecuted for pursuing truth and justice regarding this matter. His mother, mother-in-law, father, and Jafar Behkish himself have been harassed by authorities with court summons and interrogations. His sister, Mansoureh has been detained and convicted, in addition to enduring these other violations of her human rights.
Jafar Behkish’s family is among the thousands who have suffered this type of gross abuse by the Islamic Republic’s authorities. For example, Maryam Akbari Monfared, currently a political prisoner in the notorious Evin Prison, submitted a similar complaint to both Iranian officials and the UN, demanding to investigate the extra-judicial execution of her brother and sister in 1988. Judicial authorities deprived her of medical treatment, threatened to cancel her visitations and even threatened to exile Ms. Monfared to a remote city in South East of Iran, should she continue to pursue the truth about her siblings being murdered during the 1988 Prison Massacre.
It has been a year since Jafar Behkish submitted his complaint and Iranian officials have ignored him. This, the state’s ongoing destruction and desecration of mass grave sites from the 80s, and its silence before the public’s concerns also tells the world that Iran’s officials are hoping the matter will bury itself. Yet, the collective historical memory of the 1988 Prison Massacre has not faded into silence.
It’s possible that Iran’s government may be confronted with a fear that pierces their quiet impunity, and the suspected perpetrators listed in his letter are fairly tried. If anyone is found guilty, they can defend themselves with Mr. Behkish’s letters, in which he advocates against the use of the death penalty on the perpetrators of the 1988 Prison Massacre. The decades-old grief and anger felt by the victims’ families and survivors within the country is renewed annually in those late-summer months, and demands for justice are still resounding through Iran’s largest government buildings.