Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Ya'qub Behnia

About

Age: 35
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: August, 1988
Location of Killing: Central Prison (Adelabad), Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Shooting
Charges: Sympathizing with anti-regime guerilla groups
Age at time of offense: 28

About this Case

He studied in a tribal high school in Shiraz and then enrolled in the Police Force Officer’s College. He was a free-spirited, kind, generous, sincere, and forthright person and tried to help everybody.

Mr. Ya’qub Behnia is one of the 3,208 members of the Mojahedeen Khalq Organization news of whose executions has been published by the Organization in a book entitled “Crime Against Humanity*”. This book is a report regarding mass execution of political prisoners in the years 1988 and 1989. Additional information about this case was obtained from a Boroumand Center interview with a person close to him, through two electronic forms filled out and sent to the Boroumand Center by individuals who knew him, as well as from the Bidaran website. 

Mr. Ya’qub Behnia, child of Kheibar, was born on May 24, 1953, and was single. He was the eldest child of a family of the Turkish Qashqai tribe and had two brothers and a sister. His parents were stockbreeders and tribespeople. Mr. Behnia’s was a proud and reputable family.  He studied at the tribal high school in Shiraz and then enrolled in the Police Force Officer’s College. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Behnia was a police officer in the town of Fassa, and prior to that, he had worked at Tehran’s Qasr Prison, Shiraz’ Adelabad Prison, and had also worked on the town of Darab’s police force. According to a person who knew Mr. Behnia, he was a free-spirited, kind, generous, sincere, and forthright person and tried to help everybody. He was not very religious (Boroumand Center interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Mr. Ya’qub Behnia’s case relates to his lending of his car to a friend who was a member of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization.

The Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) was founded in 1965. This organization adapted the principles of Islam as its ideological guideline. However, its members’ interpretation of Islam was revolutionary and they believed in armed struggle against the Shah’s regime. They valued Marxism as a progressive method for economic and social analysis but considered Islam as their source of inspiration, culture, and ideology. In the 1970s, the MKO was weakened when many of its members were imprisoned and executed. In 1975, following a deep ideological crisis, the organization refuted Islam as its ideology and, after a few of its members were killed and other Muslim members purged, the organization proclaimed Marxism as its ideology. This move led to split of the Marxist-Leninist Section of the MKO in 1977. In January of 1979, the imprisoned Muslim leaders of the MKO were released along with other political prisoners. They began to re-organize the MKO and recruit new members based on Islamic ideology. After the 1979 Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the MKO accepted the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini and supported the Revolution. Active participation in the political scene and infiltration of governmental institutions were foremost on the organization’s agenda.  During the first two years after the Revolution, the MKO succeeded in recruiting numerous sympathizers, especially in high schools and universities; but its efforts to gain political power, either by appointment or election, were strongly opposed by the Islamic Republic leaders. *

Arrest and detention

On May 24, 1982, Mr. Behnia was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards at his place of work. He spent the first 13 months of incarceration in a solitary confinement cell at Adelabad Prison, and was subsequently transferred to that prison’s general ward upon advice of the doctor, due to developing kidney disease. After the solitary confinement period, Mr. Behnia was able to visit with his family once every two weeks for 10 to 15 minutes, from behind the glass in a visitation booth. At the first visitation, Mr. Behnia had become visibly frail. Mr. Behnia’s mother did not speak Persian and talked to him in Turkish, to which the guards objected and warned them about, because they wanted to know the content of the conversation. He was then transferred to Gachsaran Prison. He was given leave on three occasions during which he tried to find out how all his relatives and friends were doing. According to a person with knowledge of the case, his personality had somewhat changed in prison; for instance, he had started to pray after he had spent some time in jail, though he had previously not been a religious person. Mr. Behnia was returned to Adelabad Prison before his execution, and his family had no news of him for six months (Boroumand Center interview with a person with knowledge of the case, electronic form sent to Boroumand Center).

Trial

Mr. Behnia was tried in a court in Shiraz after his arrest (Boroumand Center interview with a person with knowledge of the case). No information is available about the trial session(s) and where it actually took place. Furthermore, there is no precise information regarding how and under what conditions the trials that sentenced the defendant and thousands of other political prisoners to death in a span of a few months, were convened.

The families of the victims of the 1988 killings have vehemently objected to the unjust and illegal trials that resulted in the execution of thousands of prisoners in a few months. In a letter written in 1988 to the then-Minister of Justice, Hassan Habibi, they questioned the official policy of secrecy surrounding these executions, and considered it evidence of their illegality. They noted that nearly the totality of the victims were prisoners who had previously been sentenced to prison terms in religious courts and were already either serving their time or were about to finish terms. These prisoners were tried again and quickly sentenced to death.

The Three-Men Delegation

Towards the end of August, a three-member delegation, composed of Hojatoleslam Eshraqi, the prosecutor, Hojatoleslam Nayyeri, the religious judge, and hojatoleslam Pourmohamadi, the representative of the Ministry of Information, asked prisoners questions about whether they were Muslim or Marxist, whether they prayed, and if their parents were practicing Muslims. Based on the prisoners’ responses, the latter were sentenced to be hanged or flogged until they agreed to pray. The authorities never informed prisoners about the delegation’s purpose and the serious implications of their responses. According to survivors, during the summer of 1988 a large number of prisoners sympathizing with the Mojahedin or Leftist groups were executed for not recanting their beliefs.

The relatives of political prisoners executed in 1988 deny the legality of the judicial process, which resulted in thousands of executions throughout Iran. In their 1988 open letter to the Minister of Justice at the time, Dr. Habibi, they argue that the official secrecy surrounding these executions is proof of their illegality. They note that an overwhelming majority of these prisoners had been tried and sentenced to prison terms, which they were either serving or had already completed when they were retried and sentenced to death.

Charges

The court charged Mr. Behnia with “cooperating with the Mojahedeen Khalq Organization”. He was accused of having put his car at the disposal of the Organization’s members in order to carry out operations (Boroumand Center interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Islamic Republic officials have not publicly brought any charges against the victims of the 1988 mass executions. In their letter to the Minister of Justice and a subsequent letter written in 2002 to the United Nations Special Rapporteur who had travelled to Iran, the victims’ families and relatives alluded to charges such as “[being] anti-revolutionary, against religion, and against Islam” and/or attributing “…military operations… along the country’s borders” to the victims, as having been the basis of their loved ones’ sentences.

A decree issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, published in the memoirs of Hosseinali Montazeri, the then-appointed successor of the Leader of the Revolution, confirms the families’ statements regarding the charges. In that decree, Ayatollah Khomeini labels members of the Mojahedeen Khalq Organization as “seditious hypocrites” who do not believe in Islam and states: “Those in prisons across the country who keep insisting on their seditious positions, are Mohareb (“one who wages war against God”) and are sentenced to death.”

Evidence of guilt

Mr. Behnia’s white Peykan car and the confession of an individual incriminating him, were among the evidence presented against him in court (Boroumand Center interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Defense

Mr. Behnia was denied the right to access a lawyer. No information is available on Mr. Behnia’s defense.

In their letter, the victims’ families and relatives note that their loved ones were not given an opportunity to defend themselves in court. In that same letter, in response to the allegation that the prisoners had cooperated with armed members of the Mojahedeen Khalq Organization in their attack on the Islamic republic forces, they stated that these claims “are completely false given the conditions prevailing in prisons, because our children were serving time under the harshest conditions: Visitations every two weeks for 10 minutes from behind a glass window and by phone, and their being deprived of any means of communication with the world outside the prison, conditions which we experienced in the past seven years, are proof of the validity and truth of our claim.”

Judgment

The court had initially sentenced Mr. Behnia to death. The sentence was subsequently reduced to fourteen, and ultimately seven, years in prison. Only seven months were left of Mr. Behnia’s sentence when he was transferred to Adelabad Prison from Gachsaran Prison, under the pretext that the latter’s building was in need of repairs. Mr. Ya’qub Behnia was executed in the course of the 1988 mass executions across the country (Boroumand Center interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Mr. Behnia’s family had absolutely no news of him for six months and had no knowledge that he had been executed. On one occasion where Mr. Behnia’s brother and one of their relatives had gone to Adelabad Prison to follow up on his condition, prison officials told him: “Unfortunately, he has been executed.” They then turned over a bag containing his personal effects to his brother. Among them were a wristwatch which had been a memento from his girlfriend. Prison officials showed Mr. Behnia’s brother a grave at Shiraz Cemetery on which was written “Ya’qub Behnia, 1988”, and told him that that was where he had been buried. Prison officials told the brother he did not have the right to wear black mourning clothes or hold a memorial service. According to a person who knew Mr. Behnia, he was probably executed in late August or September of 1988. According to a person with knowledge of the case, the reason for Mr. Behnia’s execution, when only seven months of his sentence remained, was stated to be his “maintaining his beliefs and position” (Boroumand Center interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Based on the Boroumand Foundation’s research, prisoners executed in 1988 were found to be “apostates.” Months after the executions, prison authorities informed the families about the executions and handed over the victims’ belongings to their families. The bodies, however, were not returned to them. The bodies were buried in mass graves. Authorities warned the families of prisoners not to hold memorial ceremonies for their loved ones.

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*“Crime Against Humanity” documents the 1988-1989 mass execution of political prisoners in Iran. The book was published by the Mojahedin Khalq Organization in 2001. The UN Human Rights Commission’s Special Representative’s Report published in January 26, 1989 contains a list of 1000 people who were executed in Iran in 1988. The report of “Names and particulars of persons allegedly executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran during the period July-December 1988,” specifies that although 1000 names are mentioned, “in all probability” there were several thousand victims. “Most of the alleged victims were members of the Mojahedin. However, members of the Tudeh Party, People’s Fedaiyan Organization, Rah-e Kargar, and Komala Organization and 11 mollahs were also said to be among the alleged victims.”

**The exclusion of MKO members from government offices and the closure of their centers and publishing houses, in conjunction with to the Islamic Republic authorities’ different interpretation of Islam, widened the gap between the two. Authorities of the new regime referred to the Mojahedin as “Hypocrites” and the Hezbollahi supporters of the regime attacked the Mojahedin sympathizers regularly during demonstrations and while distributing publications, leading to the death of several MKO supporters. On June 20, 1981, the MKO called for a demonstration protesting their treatment by governmental officials and the government officials’ efforts to impeach their ally, President Abolhassan Banisadr. Despite the fact that the authorities called this demonstration illegal, thousands came to the streets, some of whom confronted the Revolutionary Guardsmen and Hezbollahis. The number of casualties that resulted from this demonstration is unknown but a large number of demonstrators were arrested and executed in the following days and weeks. The day after the demonstration, the Islamic Republic regime started a repressive campaign – unprecedented in modern Iranian history. Thousands of MKO members and sympathizers were arrested or executed. On June 21, 1981, the MKO announced an armed struggle against the Islamic Republic and assassinated a number of high-ranking officials and supporters of the Islamic regime.

In the summer of 1981, the leader of the MKO and the impeached President (Banisadr) fled Iran to reside in France, where they founded the National Council of Resistance. After the MKO leaders and many of its members were expelled from France, they went to Iraqand founded the National Liberation Army of Iran in 1987, which entered Iranian territory a few times during the Iran-Iraq war. They were defeated in July 1988 during their last operation, the Forugh Javidan Operation. A few days after this operation, thousands of imprisoned Mojahedin supporters were killed during the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988. Ever since the summer of 1981, the MKO has continued its activities outside of Iran. No information is available regarding members and activities of the MKO inside the country.

In spite of the “armed struggle” announcement by the MKO on June 20, 1981, many sympathizers of the organization had no military training, were not armed, and did not participate in armed conflict.

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