Association of Iranian Political Prisoners (AIPP)
The Association of Iranian Political Prisoners (AIPP) was founded in March 1989 by a group of former Iranian political prisoners. Some of the group’s founders were later forced to leave Iran and as a result established an exiled branch of the organisation in June 1994. AIPP in Exile has members in eleven countries, including Sweden, Australia, England, Holland, Germany and the United States.
The main inspiration for AIPP’s foundation was the mass execution of political prisoners which took place in Iran during the summer of 1988. It is estimated that up to 10,000 prisoners were executed over a period of about two months. Witnesses described batches of prisoners being rounded up and taken for execution at half hourly intervals, some were shot and many were hanged from gallows. The large prayer hall at Tehran’s Evin prison was used for shootings and an amphitheatre hall at Karaj´s Gohardasht prison was used for hangings. It is also estimated that as many as 30,000 political prisoners were executed in previous years, between 1981 and 1987.
The pretext for the 1988 killings seems to have been the end of the war with Iraq which had lasted eight years and exhausted both countries. Unfortunately, the ceasefire was viewed as a chance to attack Khomeini’s regime by the People’s Mujahideen, an armed dissident group which had accepted protection from Saddam Hussein. The rebels were soon defeated but their opportunism gave the Iranian government an excuse to purge all political prisoners, the majority of them members of organisations like trade unions, women’s groups and non-violent political parties.
Appalled by the violence and suffering unleashed by the Iranian government AIPP’s founders came together to create an organisation that ‘struggles against the violation of human rights and for human dignity’. Taking the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as their guide AIPP campaigns against torture and the death penalty and promotes freedom of speech and assembly for all non-violent political, social and cultural groups in Iran. As well as trying to provide a framework for a more humane and just society they also give practical support to political prisoners and their families. This support includes helping torture victims find appropriate medical care and raising money to cover legal fees for individuals facing court cases.
AIPP’s website has regular updates on the human rights situation in Iran. It is full of alarming details of arbitrary arrests, torture and execution. The case of Akbar Mohammadi shows the high price paid by many people who dare to oppose the authorities. Mohammadi was arrested in 1999 after student demonstrations and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Severe beatings damaged his spine and he was released in 2005 to have specialist medical treatment. A few months later Mohammadi was rearrested and sent to Evin prison. There he began a protest hunger strike and died of a heart attack after nine days without food. According to other prisoners Mohammadi received no medical care in prison and was chained to his bed in an effort to force him to abandon his hunger strike.
Although AIPP’s reports can make depressing reading they also give a vivid picture of Iranian society’s strength and diversity and the many courageous people who speak out and challenge the government. Despite revolution, war, controversy over nuclear programmes and continued conflict across the Middle East Iranians persist in joining unions, campaigning for better rights for women and ethnic minorities and taking to the streets to demonstrate. This refusal to toe the government line is surely a sign that AIPP’s goal of a more democratic Iran which respects the rights and dignity of all its citizens will be achieved.