Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Taher Qanbari


Age: 30
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Non-Believer
Civil Status: Single


Date of Killing: 1988
Location of Killing: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Unspecified offense
Age at time of offense: 23

About this Case

was graduated from Lahijan Teacher Training college with an associate degree and was a teacher

Mr. Taher Qanbari, son of Safar, was one of the victims in the mass killings of political prisoners in 1988. The majority of the executed prisoners were members of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO). In addition to members of Marxist-Leninist organizations opposed to the Islamic Republic such as the Fadayian Khalq (Minority) and the Peykar Organization, activists of other organizations such as the Tudeh Party and the Fedaiyan Khalq (Majority) that were not against the Islamic Republic, were also among the victims of this mass killings.

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center has collected additional information regarding the 1988 massacre from the memoirs of Ayatollah Montazeri, reports from the Human Rights organizations, interviews with the witnesses and victims’ families as well as Bidaran website.

Mr. Qanbari was born in Dehshal village of Astaneh Ashrafieh in Lahijan in 1958. He was graduated from the Lahijan Teacher Training college with an associate degree and was a teacher. Mr. Qanbari started his political activities with Rah-e Kargar and was a supporter of this organization. 

“Rah-e Kargar” or the “Revolutionary Workers Organization of Iran” was established in the summer of 1979. The Organization was founded by individuals from various leftist groups who rejected the idea of armed struggle and believed in political action. They identified themselves as Marxist-Leninists, promoting a socialist revolution and the leadership of the proletariat. They differed with the pro-Soviet communist party, Tudeh, in that they opposed the Islamic Republic and Ayatollah Khomeini’s leadership.

Arrest and detention

Mr. Qanbari was arrested after June 20, 1981 in Tehran. There is no information available on the details of his arrest and detention.


Mr. Qanbari’s trial took place in Tehran in which he was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment. There is no further information available on the details of his trial.

According to the testimonies of leftist political prisoners who were tried in Gohardasht Prison during the executions of the summer of 1988, the trials took place in a room on the ground floor of the prison after a few weeks of isolation during which prisoners were deprived of visitation, television and radio broadcasts, and outdoors time. 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 later were sentenced to be hanged or the 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 refute the legality of the judicial process that resulted in thousands of executions throughout Iran.  In their 1988 open letter to 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. 


No charge has been publicly leveled against Mr. Qanbari.

Based on the testimonies of the prisoners who were in prisons in the summer of 1988, the questions of the three-member committee from the leftist prisoners were about their beliefs and they were accused of being “anti-religion”, insisting on their beliefs and not repenting. In their letters to the Minister of Justice in 1988, and to the UN Special Rapporteur visiting Iran in 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 members of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization 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. 

Defendants, who did not belong to the Mojahedin Khalq Organization, may have been accused of being “anti-religion” for not having renounced his or her beliefs. 

Evidence of guilt

No information is available regarding the evidence presented against the defendant.


No information is available on Mr. Qanbari’s defense before the three-member committee. 

A Summary of the Legal Defects in Mr. Taher Qanbari’s Case

Mr. Taher Qanbari was executed along with thousands of other political prisoners in 1988. What we winessed in those killings was that the Leader of the Islamic Republic considered that those political prisoners who insisted on maintaining their positions in support of their beliefs [and the positions of their corresponding organizations], deserved the death penalty, and unilaterally ordered a panel to issue death sentences. The most important legal issue regarding these executions is the Iranian leader’s interference in a judicial matter. The powers of the leader have been specifically enumerated in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic and he does not have the authority to issue a ruling and declare anyone an apostate or “Mofsed fel-Arz” (“one who spreads corruption on Earth”). In issuing an order that was outside the purview of his authority, Mr. Khomeini laid the groundwork for the execution of individuals like Mr. Taher Qanbari. Since [the issuance and the substance of] that letter (the order) was not within his powers, it is without legal validity and credence.

Another fundamental legal defect in Mr. Qanbari's case is that he had already been tried and sentenced to 8 years in prison in 1981-82, and was serving his prison sentence. In accordance with the basic legal principle [of res judicata], if a case is adjudicated [on its merits] resulting in the issuance of a final decision, it may not be re-litigated, i.e. the case may not be re-opened and the convicted individual may not be tried again [unless new evidence has come to light proving his innocence]. Mr. Taheri was tried again on the same charge that had already been litigated and for which a final prison sentence had been issued, except this time he is sentenced to death. The second ruling was issued contrary to the principle of res judicata and has no legal validity.

Pursuant to basic principles of criminal law, thought is not considered a crime under any circumstances whatsoever. Even if a person has criminal thoughts but those thoughts are not acted upon, or the person does not make preparations for the commission of the crime, he/she is not a criminal and may not be tried solely for having criminal thoughts. In the present case, one can observe that Mr. Qanbari was tried and sentenced to death for holding certain beliefs. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran provides that individuals have freedom of belief and one cannot be questioned for a holding a particular belief. In other words, Mr. Qanbari was sentenced to death without having committed a criminal act.

Mr. Qanbari's trial is riddled with procedural and substantive defects. According to available information, he did not have access to an attorney and was not given an opportunity to defend himself. The authorities’ claim of contact with armed elements outside prison has not been proven by any means whatsoever and has no logical basis. The judges on the panel were not qualified [and did not have the competence] to be judges and to issue rulings, and were appointed on the orders of the Iranian leader. The trial took place in unfair and threatening circumstances and in secret, with no possibility of appeal before judicial authorities.


Mr. Qanbari was executed during the mass killings of political prisoners in 1988 in Evin  Prison.

When Mr. Qanbari’s father went to Evin prison in October 1988 to visit his son, he was given a bag with his son’s Kurdish style pants and an under shirt in it. He was then told not to go to the prison anymore as his son was no longer alive.

Based on Boroumand Foundation’s research, leftist 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 loves ones.

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