Uncovering the Truth;
The 1980s Purge of Iran’s Leftists
In the 1980s, following the Iranian Revolution, a wave of repression and violence was directed against leftist political opponents by the newly established Islamic Republic. This included the execution of many left-wing political prisoners, who were seen as threats to the new regime. The exact number of political prisoners executed during this time is unknown, but it is estimated that thousands were killed. The executions were carried out in a number of prisons across the country and were often accompanied by widespread torture and other forms of abuse.
Many of the left-wing political prisoners had been involved in the struggle against the previous regime, the Pahlavi dynasty, and were seen as potential threats to the stability of the new Islamic Republic. They were also targeted for their political beliefs, which were seen as incompatible with the Islamic ideology of the new regime.
The Union of Iranian Communists (Sarbedaaran) was a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organization that initially supported the some policies of the Islamic Republic, including the occupation of the U.S. embassy and the resistance to the invasion of Iraq, until June 1981.
The Union of Communists was founded by exiled opponents of the Pahlavi regime, many of whom were members of the student confederation. Despite their opposition to the regime, they did not support guerrilla warfare.
There were other Communist political parties, organizations, and collectives who opposed the rise of Islamists but referred to the Union of Communists with the pejorative term “Pro-Imam’s Leftist” due to their perceived support for Khomeini. In some stages of the court, the defendants used this title as a defend element to distinguish themselves from other leftists.
However, after widespread political suppression in 1981, they believed that a coup had taken place by the Islamists and the revolution had deviated from its original path, leading them to resort to armed action.
A significant split occurred when a faction decided to engage in armed struggle and attempt to seize control of a city in Iran. This action was carried out amidst the widespread suppression of communists by the Islamic State and resulted in the division of the union into two factions: those who supported the armed movement and those who opposed it.
However, those members who were disagree the Amol rebellion, were also arrested and tried for the crime of being a member of the organization and participating in the conflict. In different parts of the court, their accusation is their way of thinking, and they end up facing the death sentence.
For instance, Abdurrahman Azmayesh is one of the defendants in this court. He is charged with being a member of the central leadership of the Union of Communists, membership in the Confederation of Iranian Students in U.S. (prior to the revolution!), and overseeing the labor department of the union. The prosecution accuses him of attempting to redirect from Islam and recruit workers to the union!
The faction aimed to steer the revolution back onto its original course by liberating the city of Amol from government control, with the hope that the people’s support would ignite another revolution. However, after being defeated by the Sepah (IRGC) and Basij forces and incurring heavy losses, the leaders and members of the union chose to abandon their resistance and return to their cities. The subsequent arrest of numerous members in early 1982 effectively brought the organization’s operations to a close.
A key trial
In this article, I aim to focus on just one aspect of the trial, despite having several questions about the entire collection. The examine of this court is important from the point that many of these people always repeat the defense of the “Islamic Revolution”, the “Islamic Republic” and giving support to “Khomeini”, but the main goal of the court is to destroy their political image and especially “Communism” as an ideology opposed to Islam.
In this session, like other court sessions, the accused is seated directly beneath a large picture of Ruhollah Khomeini. The contrast between the small figure of the prisoner at the trial table and the towering image of Khomeini creates a striking visual. In wide shots, the accused appears as just a tiny dot beneath Khomeini’s feet, emphasizing the power of the Islamic Republic’s leader. The arrangement of the court is a consideration to this power dynamic.
The scene described takes place in a courtroom where the accused individuals are being tried for various charges. Asadollah Lajevardi (Famous as Evin’s butcher), the Central Revolutionary Prosecutor, presents the charges against the defendants, which are then repeated by Mohammadi Gilani, the head judge and a Sharia authority.
The defendants are depicted as tired and defeated, while the spectators in the courtroom are divided into two groups. The first group is made up of a large gathering of hand-selected individuals who are introduced as “the people”, families of the martyrs, Hezbollah members, and members of Sepah and Basij. This group plays an active role in the proceedings and some of them are even called as witnesses. They are shown chanting slogans and making protesting statements at various times during the trial.
The second group of spectators is comprised of a few members of the prisoners’ families, whose faces are rarely shown. This division of the audience serves to highlight the power dynamics at play in the courtroom and the unequal treatment of the different groups of people present.
The venue of the court is the prison theater. On the right side accused are, in the center a defense and on the left side of the scene, judge and the prosecutor. Right: Eidi Mohammad Nozari.
In this trial, the prosecution consistently presents a monolithic narrative: “Communist forces, labeled as Moharebs and Ma’and (rancorous), carried out an attack on the city of Amol and killed innocent people, but the people stood up against these criminals and were martyred, ultimately resulting in a victory for Islam.” Regardless of individual differences among the defendants in terms of personality, education, and expression, they all share a commonality in rejecting communism and condemning their own organization as criminal or wrong.
It’s evident to all participants that the trial is not a genuine legal proceeding, but rather a staged performance in front of the camera, under the secure conditions of Evin prison. The objective is for “the Iranian people to be informed about the crimes of Sarbadaaran.” This is why the components of the performance were choreographed in such a way to meet the expectations of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Revolutionary Court, with no legal representation or defense for the accused.
Everyone involved, including the accused, spectators, prosecutor and judge, understands that the verdict has already been determined and the trial is merely a formality. As Mohammadi Gilani frequently states, the outcome of the trial is for the accused to be executed. However, the process of obtaining confessions and praise is structured in such a way that, even though all the defendants know their sentence is death, they still perform as requested by the “interrogators.”
In contrast to other trial accused, the trial of Eidi Mohammad Nozari stands out. Despite the predetermined outcome, the defendant, whether intentionally or unintentionally, disrupts the script and plan of the show several times during his defense. It is in these moments of chaos that, as a viewer more than three decades later, I can glimpse bits of truth beyond the television screen.
Eidi Mohammad Nozari is accused of playing a role in violent actions as the military deputy of a guerrilla group in the vicinity of Amol city. During the trial, he is questioned about his involvement in planning military operations and executing specific incidents, such as the killing of guards in Amol and burning their bodies. The judge, Mohammadi Gilani, asks Nozari to provide explanations for these events.
In both instances, the court proceedings deviate from the planed scenario. Witnesses from the audience step up to the speak and say things that do not align with Lajevardi’s intentions. One testimony, for instance, contradicts Lajevardi’s initial claim in the first court session, showing that not all the people in Amol were supporters of the Islamic Republic. Instead, in certain neighborhoods, most of the people opposed the IRGC and Basij so strongly that they were unwilling to give them shelter.
In fact, the testimony of one Basiji from the crowd challenges Lajevardi’s definition of “the people” as an absolute whole that supports the Islamic Republic. The viewer of this court realizes that when Lajevardi speaks of “the people,” he only refers to the IRGC members and the Basijis, not all citizens.
In the next part of the court, the testimony of a woman contradicts the allegations made against the Sarbedaaran. According to the testimony, the members of Sarbedaaran did not burn the bodies of the Sepah members and in some cases, they even buried them. This contradicts the story that had been presented since the beginning of the trial, which claimed that the Union of Iranian Communists not only killed “people,” but also subjected their bodies to torture (?), burned them, and wrote slogans in favor of America on them.
Eidi Mohammad Nozari uses his last defense to narrate his life story, a departure from the typical repetition of repentance and justification by the other defendants. He speaks of his upbringing in a struggling family, where he had to work to pay for his education and witnessed people dying from poverty. He describes how Marxist ideas appealed to him due to the economic and class struggles he faced, as well as the lack of influence from Muslim groups in Mahshahr and Khuzestan [Province] prior to the revolution.
The unexpected course of the trial diverges greatly from the expectations of Lajevardi and Mohammadi Gilani, causing them both to angrily interrupt Eidi Mohammad Nozari’s speech multiple times. They are forced to provide additional explanations and at one point, Mohammadi Gilani, who had previously displayed a polite demeanor as a Sharia judge, loses his temper and uses a vulgar insult (motherf…r) to describe a person from Amol city who was revealed to have joined Sarbedaaran.
In one scene, the charge of terrorism is raised, with the judge equating terrorism with criticism of the Islamic Republic. Mohammadi Gilani says to one accused, Hossein Riahi: "You were terrorizing people's thoughts!" Riahi replies, "We were talking to people!" and Gilani repeated again: "Yes, you were terrorizing their thoughts." In another part of the court, judge tells Riahi and his comrades: "We agree that you were fighting with American imperialism. But your fight was not because of Islam and God." Emphasizing the Communist's role in the Revolution, Mohammadi Gilani however criticized their lack of belief in Islam and their irreligion, stating that "your struggle was for Lenin's thoughts dignity, not for Iran's Independence!"
If the series of trial sessions of the members of the Union of Iranian Communists can be seen as a singular example of show trials, coerced confessions, and the workings of Sharia courts, the trial of Eidi Mohammad Nozari stands out as the paramount example. In this trial, the black and white picture portrayed by Lajevardi, Mohammadi Gilani, Mousavi Tabrizi, the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, the IRGC, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is shattered, revealing the gray truth. This truth highlights that many who fell victim to this system joined the fight for freedom and equality with high hopes and aspirations.
Examining this collection reveals that the existing system during that time and thereafter did not grant any rights to political opponents.
Uncovering the truth about the events of the 1980s is a challenging task, given the lack of access to government archives, long-standing concealment, falsification, and censorship. The resulting picture is likely to be incomplete, with only additional pieces of the complex puzzle being uncovered. Mistakes made by the Islamic Republic that provide authentic documents are rare. The 22-part series of the Sarbedaaran Court, which was likely intended to further conceal and falsify history, has nonetheless provided valuable pieces of the 1980s puzzle for the use of human rights activists, researchers, and truth seekers.
The execution of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s was a dark chapter in the country’s recent history, and its impact is still felt today. The families of those who were killed continue to seek recognition and justice for their loved ones, and the memory of the executed political prisoners remains a source of inspiration for human rights activists and supporters of democracy in Iran.
All of this collection has been made available by the Justice for Iran Organization on YouTube and available to researchers and enthusiasts.
Nasrin Jazayeri is the only one among the defendants whose picture has been broadcast, who is sentenced to life imprisonment. However, a report that she was later executed has been published by some of the surviving Sarbedaran members. (New flying bird, Communist Party of Iran (M.L.M), page 325, Germany, summer 2003)