Twenty human rights organizations issued a joint statement today calling on the Iranian authorities to “stop the harassment, intimidation and prosecution of human rights defenders seeking truth and justice on behalf of individuals who were summarily executed or forcibly disappeared during the 1980s and their families,” the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), one of the signatories of the statement . “Over the past few months, several human rights defenders, including Mansoureh Behkish, Maryam Akbari-Monfared and Raheleh Rahemipour, have been subjected to harassment, reprisals or prosecution on vague national security-related charges for their peaceful efforts to learn the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.”

The CHRI added that “the latest wave of persecution of those seeking truth and justice appears to have been triggered by the release in August 2016 of an audio recording of a meeting in 1988 in which senior officials are heard discussing and defending the details of their plans to carry out the 1988 mass executions.”

Comment: The Iranian authorities last month arrested Ahmad Montazeri, the son of one of the founding fathers of Islamic Republic, to serve a six-year jail term for releasing tapes that shed further light on the regime’s mass executions of political prisoners in 1988. He is the son of late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was once designated as a successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, but was later marginalized after openly criticizing top regime officials for oppressing dissidents and imposing a dictatorship.

In December, a Special Clerical Court defrocked regime critic Ahmad Montazeri and sentenced him to for publishing an in which his father had condemned a mass execution of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. "In my view the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed at your hands," Montazeri is telling a gathering of judges and judiciary officials involved in the case. "Your names will be written in history as criminals." The execution of thousands of members of Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) and other leftist organizations was carried out at Khomeini’s order.

Montazeri’s jail term shows that the 1988 executions still remain a taboo subject in Iran. Although late Montazeri had detailed the episode in his memoir, regime officials were petrified by the audio tape’s release because it was widely disseminated through the internet and social media, including by young Iranians inside and outside the country. Read moreover, some top judiciary officials condemned in the audio tape are currently serving in the government, including Justice Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi. They may be terrified that that the audio clip might implicate them of crime against humanity at an international court, if not at home.

Furthermore, by handing Montazeri a six-year prison term, regime authorities may also be trying to prevent him from releasing any other incriminating evidence relating to the 1988 executions and other acts of oppression by the regime in the past. It also sends a message to other Iranians that disclosing cases of repression and rights violation by the Islamic Republic bears dire consequences.