In July 1988, the Islamic Republic of Iran agreed to a United Nations ceasefire to end the eight-year war with Iraq. Then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a secret fatwa (a religious edict) ordering judicial authorities to execute political prisoners who were already serving sentences, with some scheduled for release. They were presented for questioning before four-member inquisition panels, known to prisoners as “Death Commissions,” which lasted only minutes. Prisoners were asked a few short “yes” or “no” questions, and based on their answers, were either sent to be tortured or executed. The mass executions of 4,500 to 5,000 men and women were carried out within three months. To date, Iran has never formally acknowledged that the extrajudicial killings took place or the existence of mass graves.

Numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have deemed the 1988 prison massacre to rise to the level of crimes against humanity. In September 2020, UN human rights experts called for accountability regarding the 1988 mass executions. Iran’s newly inaugurated President Ebrahim Raisi played a key role in the 1988 executions as a member of a Death Commission. Can Raisi be held accountable? What does his direct involvement in these crimes mean for his presidency?

The Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative invites you to a discussion with a distinguished panel of speakers with firsthand expertise and knowledge of the legal, historical, and political ramifications of the events of July 1988.

The discussion will be held via Zoom on October 22, 2021, from 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. ET. A link to the meeting will be sent to those who register to attend. The event is open to press and on-the-record.


Iraj Mesdaghi
Author and Massacre Survivor

Roya Boroumand
Executive Director
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

Lawdan Bazargan
Human Rights Activist

Gissou Nia
Senior Fellow and Head of Strategic Litigation Project
Atlantic Council

Moderated by

Holly Dagres
Nonresident Senior Fellow and Editor of IranSource
Atlantic Council