Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Zahra Ranjbar


Age: 30
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam
Civil Status: Unknown


Date of Killing: 1988
Location of Killing: Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: War on God; Counter revolutionary opinion and/or speech

About this Case

A sympathizer of the Mojahedin, Ms. Ranjbar had grown up in Shiraz, in Fars. She was still a student when, at 30, she was charged with ambiguous crimes.

Ms. Zahra Ranjbar was a victim of the mass killings of political prisoners in 1988.  The majority of the executed prisoners were members of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO, also known as People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran - PMOI).  Other victims included members or sympathizers of Marxist-Leninist organizations, such as the Fadaiyan Khalq (Minority) and the Peykar Organization, which opposed the Islamic Republic, as well as the Tudeh Party and the Fadaiyan Khalq (Majority), which did not.  The Boroumand Foundation has gathered information about the mass executions from the memoir of Ayatollah Montazeri, reports by human rights organizations, interviews with victims’ families, and witnesses’ memoirs.      

Ms. Zahra Ranjbar is listed among 3,208 members and sympathizers of the People's Mojahedin of Iran Organization (PMIO) whose executions were reported by the organization in a book entitled “Crime Against Humanity.” This book documents the 1988-1989 mass execution of political prisoners. Additional information was drawn from the Mojahedin Khalq website. According to this information, Ms. Zahra Ranjbar, 30, was born in Shiraz and was a student. Further information was sent via an electronic form by a prison mate of Ms. Zahra Ranjbar.    

The Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) was founded in 1965. This organization adapted the principals 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

According to the electronic form report, Ms. Zahra Ranjbar had been detained in solitary confinement for a year. Her brother and fiancé were executed. According to her cellmate, she had been pressured by interrogators to confess. She showed her tortured feet and legs. “It was like they were both burned up to her knees,” quotes her cellmate. A doctor visited her twice in order to find a way to heal her legs. But he couldn’t help her. She just kept her feet and legs lubricated. Zahra told her cellmate that once she became unconscious during flogging. When she gained consciousness, she realized that she had been raped and had to change her underwear.        


Specific details on the circumstances of the trials that led to the execution of Ms. Zahra Ranjbar and thousands of other individuals in 1988 are not known.  According to available information, the Iranian authorities did not try the victims of the 1988 mass execution in a court with the presence of a defense lawyer.  The prisoners executed in 1988 had been questioned by a three-member special committee composed of a religious judge, a representative of the Intelligence Ministry, and the Tehran Prosecutor.      

The relatives of political prisoners executed in 1988 refute the legality of the judicial process that resulted in thousands of executions throughoutIran. In their 1988 open letter to then Minister of Justice 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. 


According to the Mojahedin report, Ms. Zahra Ranjbar was collectively charged with, “Counter revolutionary opinion and/or speech; War on God, God's Prophet and the deputy of the Twelfth Imam.” In their letters to the Minister of Justice (1988), and to the UN Special Rapporteur visiting Iran (February 2003), the families of the victims refer to the authorities' accusations against the prisoners – accusations that may have led to their execution. These accusations include being "counter-revolutionary, anti-religion, and anti-Islam," as well as being "associated with military action or with various [opposition] groups based near the borders." 

An edict of the Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, reproduced in the memoirs of Ayatollah Montazeri, his designated successor, corroborates the reported claims regarding the charges against the executed prisoners. In this edict, Ayatollah Khomeini refers to the PMOI's members as "hypocrites" who do not believe in Islam and "wage war against God," and decrees that prisoners who still approve of the positions taken by this organization are also "waging war against God," and should be sentenced to death.  

Evidence of guilt

The report of this execution does not contain information regarding the evidence provided against the defendant. 


No information is available on Ms. Zahra Ranjbar’s defense.  In their open letter, the families of the prisoners note that defendants were not given the opportunity to defend themselves in court.  The same letter, rebutting the accusation that these prisoners (from inside the prison) had collaborated with armed members of the Mojahedin Organization in clashes with armed forces of the Islamic Republic, states that such claims “are false considering the circumstances in prisons; for our children faced most difficult conditions [in the prison, with] visitation rights of once every 15 days, each visitation lasting ten minutes through a telephone from behind a glass window, and were deprived of any connection with the outside world.  We faced such conditions for seven years, which proves the truth of our claim.” 


No sentence was issued publicly.  Months later, 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, but buried in mass graves.  Authorities warned the families of prisoners not to hold memorial ceremonies for their loved ones. 

According to the Mojahedin Khalq website, Ms. Zahra Ranjbar was executed in Shiraz in 1988.  


* 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 regime 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 fromFrance, they went toIraqand 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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