Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism

By Reza Afshari | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Renounce Your Conscience or Face Death
The Prison Massacre of 1988

Between 1984 and the prison massacre of 1988, there was a period of relative improvement in prison conditions. The significance of that period— which prisoners called the “intermission”—lies in the fact that some prisoners used the opportunity to try to reassert their secular identity and regain a measure of respect for their freedom of conscience. It needs to be emphasized that in the massacre, the violation of the right to life was a consequence of the egregious violation of the right to freedom of thought and conscience. For this reason I discuss the massacre in this category and not in the category of the right to life.

By 1984, the regime seemed to have sifted through the population of political prisoners. Those who survived and accepted the consequences of their intransigence appeared to have settled in for a long haul.1 Outside, almost all the leftist groups had vanished. So had the main source of moral, political, and organizational support for the political prisoners. Prisoners who escaped execution found themselves extremely vulnerable, a situation not unexpected in a postrevolutionary period in a country like Iran. The leftist political movement had failed to take root among the populace, leaving the youths it mobilized during the revolution at the mercy of its ruthless enemy, the political clerics. Outside of prisons, the captives had no constituencies to support them, no statesmen to inquire openly about their fates, and no journalists to investigate their cases. The rapidly depoliticized society disowned them, with the exception of their mothers and elder family members. Despite the frightening atmosphere of harassment and intimidation, the mothers kept forming queues wherever the possibility of inquiring into the fates of their loved ones presented itself.

Inside prison walls, the small clusters of hunkered-down comrades relied on their own inner strength, now more mindful of their own personal dignity than their allegiance to a failed revolutionary ideology. Prisoners like Raha often lamented the fact that members of each group coalesced,

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