A cleric who has long been a top judge in Iran has acknowledged that the Islamic Republic massacred political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

Hossein Ali Nayeri, one of the judges who was reportedly involved in the summary trial and execution of thousands of Iranian prisoners, defended his action in an interview with the Islamic Republic Documents Center (IRDC) a government entity that collects the history of the 1979 revolution and more than four decades of rule by the Islamic Republic in Iran.

Nayeri is currently the chairman of the Disciplinary Court for Judges in the Islamic Republic, a supervising body that monitors and controls the performance of judges in Iran.

He tried to justify and explain away the killing of thousands of political prisoners, saying: "It was a special situation. The country was in a critical state. If Khomeini [the Islamic Republic's first leader] did not stand firm, we would not have the security we are enjoying today. Perhaps the regime would have not been able to survive. Some 50 to 60 people were assassinated in Tehran and other Iranian cities daily."

Nayeri was referring to hundreds of assassinations from 1981 when MEK was targeting clerics and officials of the Islamic Republic.

In the interview, Nayeri also shed light on the life of the Islamic Republic's first Revolutionary Court Chairman Ayatollah Mohammadi Gilani, who is known for his ruthless treatment of prisoners. Nayeri recalled that Gilani used to say that the revolutionary court's rulings came from God Almighty, "and he would never make any compromise when the order came from God," Nayeri said.

Some of the unmarked graves of prisoners killed in 1988, in a cemetary in Tehran

"The critical situation at that time called for strict treatment. We could not run the country by being too soft," he added.

Asked why prisoners who were serving jail sentences or had already served their prison terms were killed, Nayeri said that was because the prisoners conspired against the Islamic Republic.

Nayeri also talked about the rumors that Gilani handed down death sentences for his own sons in the 1980s. Nayeri said the Ayatollah's sons were with the Mujahedin-e Khalq, aka the MeK. He added that Gilani's sons never ended up in jail as they were killed during clashes with security forces in the streets. Asked how Gilani reacted to the killing of his sons, Nayeri quoted him as saying, "I am not even allowed to cry for my children." Nayeri added that Gilani's two sons had long abandoned the family and went their separate ways.

He said that there were a couple of assassination attempts on Gilani but every time he miraculously escaped death.

Speaking about another juncture of the history of the Islamic Republic, Nayeri said that Gilani was a devotee of Khomeini and was one of the supporters of Ali Khamenei when the Assembly of Experts met in June 1989 to choose a new leader for the Islamic Republic after Khomeini's death. He said that both Khomeini and Khamenei always valued Gilani's judgement.

Nayeri was a member of the "death committee" that sentenced political prisoners to die. Iran’s current president, Ebrahim Raisi was also a member of the group. A witness in the Swedish trial of an Iranian over his alleged role in the 1988 prison executions in mid-December 2021 named President Ebrahim Raisi as one of the officials directly involved in the massacre.

In a recent development, Prominent former UN officials have called for a UN investigation into the 1988 "massacre" of political prisoners in Iran, including the role of President Ebrahim Raisi, at that time.

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