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Excerpt from Book of the Disappeared

By: Danielle Coty-Fattal | Date: December 8, 2022
Excerpt from Book of the Disappeared

This excerpt by Ashraf Zahedi will be published in the chapter “Politics of Silence and Denial: 1988 Enforced Disappearances and Executions in Iran” in Book of the Disappeared: The Quest for Transnational Justice from the University of Michigan Press. Book of the Disappeared will be published in May of 2023 in hardcover, paperback, and open access.

Evin prison, located in Tehran, Iran, has been the primary site for holding Iranian political prisoners. Opened in 1972, it is estimated to hold 15,000 men and women. Evin is notorious for physical and psychological tortures, including sexual abuse and rape, savage interrogations, forced confessions, and arbitrary executions. The prison has a dedicated execution yard.

On October 15, 2022, as nationwide protests about the in-custody death of 22-year-old Mahsa Zhina Amini were in progress, a severe fire erupted in Evin prison. While the fire was raging, clashes between prisoners and guards ensued. Security forces in the guise of subduing the prisoners opened gunfire, which resulted in at least eight deaths and sixty-one injuries.

The fire at Evin drew international attention, but its history is rarely mentioned. Although it is not the only prison in Iran holding political prisoners, Evin has played a significant role in the lives of dissidents before and after the 1979 revolution. In 1988, thousands of prisoners, affiliated or perceived to be affiliated with banned organizations—the Mojahedin, Fadaian, Peykar, and Komala, among others—became targets of State brutality. They were allowed no legal representation when they appeared before the judiciary panels that condemned them. These panels are known as “Death Committees.”

Ebrahim Raisi, the current president of Iran, was a member of one of the Death Committee panels that determined prisoners’ fates and ordered their executions. Families were often told their loved ones were freed, only to find when they arrived to fetch them that they had already been killed. While there is no official record of executed prisoners, it is estimated to be between 5000 to 10,000. To hide these atrocities from the public, the authorities dumped the bodies into mass graves throughout Iran. In southeast Tehran, the graves are located in Khavaran, an irregular, unmarked, cemetery, originally uncovered by marauding dogs detecting the smell of flesh from the shallow, hastily buried bodies. The cemetery is now visited by families hoping to find or at least commemorate their disappeared ​loved ones.

For years, the Islamic Republic has denied these executions ever happened. Meanwhile, it has bulldozed mass graves then mixed the bones, attempting to destroy evidence. With its arbitrary arrests, imprisonments, and executions, the Islamic Republic of Iran is committing blatant crimes against humanity. It continues to suppress any expression of dissent, as evidenced by the ongoing killings of participants in the recent “Women, Life, Freedom” protests. Some of the protestors have been arrested and are currently serving time in Evin. Another horrifying event such as the 1988 mass executions may well happen again.


To read more from this chapter or to preview the Table of Contents, visit and click “Look Inside.”