Truth Commission – Activity Summary Report

News coverage of Iran’s first phase of the Tribunal

The media coverage has been extraordinary. The Tribunal’s message has literally reached tens of millions of people around the world. The following links are parts of the news reflects the first phase of the Iran Tribunal, the Truth Commission, which took place between 18th  and  22nd  June, 2012 in London.

The list is what we have approached for now. Links to numerouse Iranian Radio and television, newspapers and worldwide televisions, including BBC World and Alarbyh, Algazeera covering the Truth Commission in London have not reached us. 

Truth Commission – Activity Summary Report

June 2012

1. Background

The Communication Group plc (TCG) was commissioned by Hamid Sabi to provide communication recommendations surrounding the Iran Tribunal and to carry out a targeted media strategy to raise awareness of the Tribunal’s Truth Commission, to be held in London on 18-22 June 2012. This document outlines the context for the activity, defines the objectives, and details the strategy implemented by TCG and the results achieved. In addition, a media announcement, target media list and full coverage report are included as appendices.

2. Scene setting

Iran Tribunal Campaign is a social movement that has been initiated by a group of individuals with the aim of setting up a Truth Commission and a People’s Tribunal into the mass executions and massacre of political prisoners in 1980s and to hold the Islamic Republic of Iran accountable for its crime against humanity. This Commission/Tribunal will examine all the evidence put before it from it by any source or party.

The Tribunal will compromise of two stages: a ‘Truth Commission’ and the ‘Tribunal’.

The Commission aims to collect statements, witness documents and dossiers and to produce a report on extensive executions in the early years of 1980s as well as mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.

The Commission will allow victims, relatives of victims, journalists, experts and perpetrators to come forward and provide testimony. The strict rules governing the introduction of evidence in trials are typically more relaxed in Truth Commissions. As a result, during Truth Commissions, there is a greater opportunity for individuals to come forward with stories of harms they have suffered.

The raison d’être of the Truth Commission is to allow victims to have a voice, to publicise the abuses of human rights, and to hold perpetrators to account for past atrocities.

2.1 The Commission

The Commission is an unusual phenomenon as it deals with human rights violations by a government that is still in power.

From 18-22 June, the Truth Commission heard witness statements from the survivors and families of the victims over a period of five days. Once the Truth Commission has heard all the statements, it will produce a written report, encompassing all of its findings. This report will be submitted to the Tribunal. The report must provide detailed research of the events of 1980s and in particular the events

Surrounding mass execution of prisoners in the summer of 1988, and clarifying how the Tribunal should investigate this matter.

2.2 The Tribunal

The Tribunal is modelled on the Russell Tribunal, held against the crimes of the United States in Vietnam. The Tribunal will investigate the findings of the Truth Commission and will issue a judgments based on this and will take place in The Hague on 25-27 October 2012.

The Tribunal would consist of five to seven judges who are eminent jurists from various countries.

2.3 Media interest

TCG highlighted the importance of drawing the attention of the mass media to the work of the Truth Commission and the Tribunal. TCG further recommended that reporters be given the opportunity to cover the statement of witnesses (unless a witness has requested privacy). In addition, TCG recommended that published reports should be distributed amongst Iranian and non Iranian media outlets. The final report of the Commission and the court’s verdict should be used for publicity internationally.

3. Objectives

TCG defined the objectives for this activity as follows:

Announce the first of two stages of the Iran Tribunal

Raise the profile of the Iran Tribunal to increase its reach and impact

4. Strategy

In order to achieve the objectives outlined above TCG recommended the following strategy:

Distribute announcement of the Truth Commission

Engage with high profile press that have covered Iran’s human rights background

Highlight the work of the Iran Tribunal among international media

5. Activity

5.1 Media announcement

Ahead of the launch of the Truth Commission on 18 June, TCG drafted a media announcement to be circulated among target media. The announcement contained details of the Iran Tribunal, explains the individuals involved and the context for the Iran Tribunal. The release also included details of the Truth Commission proceedings, advising media that simultaneous Farsi-English translation would be available. The announcement also directed media to a website where the proceedings were to be streamed live on the internet.

For media announcement, please see Appendix 2

5.2 Engage with high-profile press

TCG identified a selection of influential journalists who are active in the Iranian and human rights sectors who should be engaged with on an individual basis. There included;

Martin Fletcher, Associate Editor, The Times

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Columnist, the Guardian

Max Rodenbeck, Middle East Correspondent, the Economist

TCG also identified a number of UK-based and international media outlets, including international news wires and national publications, who should be targeted to maximise international awareness of the Truth Commission and the Iran Tribunal among both Iranian and non-Iranian audiences.

TCG recommended that target journalists should be;

Given privileged briefings with members of the Tribunal

Invited to the press conference on 17 June 2012

Encouraged to take the especially reserved seating during the Commission hearings

Once the media announcement and media list was approved by Client, TCG distributed the announcement to agreed target media on 13 June.

For a full list of media targets, please see Appendix 3

6. during the Truth Commission

6.1 Manage media interest

TCG managed media contact in the lead up to the launch of the Truth Commission. Journalists were offered access to the hearings and to a press conference launching the Commission on 17 June. Briefings with members of the Tribunal including John Cooper QC and Professor Maurice Copithorne were also offered, as were opportunities to speak with witnesses giving evidence at the Truth Commission.

Following the launch of the Truth Commission, TCG continued to manage requests for media passes to the hearings. TCG passed on all requests to Client to ensure that key media were allowed full access to the hearings including briefings with members of the Truth Commission and those giving evidence at the hearings. TCG also managed enquiries from broadcast outlets and arranged access to the hearings for producers, presenters and film crews, providing Client with details of their technical requirements in advance.

Consultancy secured attendance at the Truth Commission from the following journalists;

Golnoosh Golshani, Senior Producer, BBC Persian Network

Shahriar Siami, Reporter, BBC Persian network

Jamshid Barzegar, Reporter, BBC Persian network

Sadeq Saba, Reporter, BBC Persian network

Laura Connor, Reporter, Press Association

Fazel Hawramy, Blogger, the Guardian and

James Reynolds, Iran Correspondent, BBC News

Nick Clark, News Presenter, Al-Jazeera

6.2 Media coverage

As a result of this media activity, coverage of the Iran Tribunal and the Truth Commission was secured in the following;


The Guardian, ‘Justice for the victims of Iranian massacre’, 15 June 2012

The Times, ‘Survivors recall horror of ‘Iran’s Srebrenica’, 19 June 2012


The Economist, ‘Iran 1988 – What Happened?’ 22 June 2012

Gulf News Daily, ‘New panel to unveil rights abuse truths’, 14 June 2012

The Huffington Post, ‘Iran Tribunal to Uncover Iran’s ‘Srebrenica’’, 15 June 2012, ‘Survivors reveal hidden truth about Iran’s darkest decade’, 20 June 2012

Broadcast media

Al-Jazeera – an interview with John Cooper QC was broadcast on the network’s evening news bulletin, 22 June 2012

BBC Persian Network – a TV film crew attended the hearings throughout the week. A live broadcast from the Truth Commission hearings led the Network’s flagships News Hour programme on 20 June.

For a full list of media coverage, please see Appendix 1

6.3 Further ongoing media interest

In addition to securing the attendance of the above journalists at the hearings, TCG also received expressions of interest from several other UK-based and international journalists. While unable to attend the hearings, the following individuals have asked to be kept informed on the progress of the Iran Tribunal and expressed interest in covering it in the future;

Damien McElroy, Foreign Correspondent, the Daily Telegraph

Siona Jenkins, Middle East and Africa Editor, Financial Times

Jerome Taylor, Religious Affairs Correspondent, the Independent

Laura Pitel, Reporter, The Times

Danny Kemp, London Correspondent, Agence France Press

Louise Smith, Producer, BBC World News

7. Following the Truth Commission

Following the conclusion of the Truth Commission hearings on 22 June, TCG has continued to follow-up with journalists who had attended the hearings and who had expressed an interest in the work of the Iran Tribunal. TCG will continue to manage requests for information and direct these to Client as appropriate.

Prepared by the Communication Group plc

June 2012

Appendix 1

Media coverage

The Guardian

Friday 15th June 2012

The Times

Tuesday 19th June 2012

The Times (online)

Tuesday 19th June 2012

Survivors recall horror of ‘Iran’s Srebrenica’

Relatives at Khavaran, northern Tehran, where many of the dead lie in unmarked graves

Roger Boyes Diplomatic Editor

Some of them still hobble, others twitch and stutter. Almost a quarter of a century after a massacre described as “Iran’s Srebrenica”, scores of survivors, physically and psychologically damaged by the torture they endured, came to London to testify at an international tribunal yesterday.

It aims to record the horrors of the 1988 killings; the climax of a decade of bloody purges set in train by Islamist zealots who believed that they had been given a free hand by Ayatollah Khomeini to jail and kill anyone critical of the regime. Some 5,000 people, including women and children, were loaded on to forklift trucks and hanged from cranes. At least 20,000 were executed in jails across Iran in the 1980s. The crimes have never been investigated.

“My so-called trial lasted less than five minutes,” Salah Bakhtiyar said yesterday. “The judge asked me how many I have killed. I replied: ‘I haven’t harmed an ant’.”

Mr Bakhtiyar, who supported a Kurdish workers’ group, told how, even as he pleaded for mercy, the judge bounced his four-year-old son on his lap. “Apparently this boy had been to many such sessions, because he would interrupt his father and say ‘Dear Dad, execute him too’.”

Mr Bakhtiyar’s death sentence was commuted to ten years’ jail. On one feast day in jail he was allowed meat. “The guard who served up the food told us that the meat belonged to the flesh of our friends who were executed in Tabriz.”

Others described how they were strung up and then had their feet pummelled with electric cables. “After 10 to 15 blows from the cable cold water was thrown on the feet so that they would not go numb,” said one former prisoner.

As victim after victim took the stand — housed in the London premises of Amnesty International — tension crackled in the room. One bearded witness let out a high-pitched wail as he listened to Zahra Tasorian, from Arak, describe how her husband had hugged a 14-year-old boy at the moment of execution.

“The boy had called for his mother,” said Ms Tasorian, speaking from behind a screen. Even 24 years after the killings, the survivors, coming from as far afield as Scandinavia and Canada to give testimony, still fear that the regime could seek revenge.

The organisers of the tribunal — among them John Cooper, QC, the civil rights barrister, and Payam Akhavan, the former UN war crimes prosecutor — hope that the evidence gathered in five days of hearings will form the backbone of a trial for crimes against humanity. Some of those accused of the killings have gone on to become ministers in Iran or senior figures in the judiciary.

“This will be a cathartic experience for the relatives of the victims who are still haunted by the most violent phase in the modern history of Iran,” said Mr Cooper.

The Economist

Friday 22nd June 2012

Iran, 1988

What happened?

IN THE summer of 1988, when its revolution was nearly a decade old and the disastrous war with Iraq was winding down, the Iranian government killed around 5,000 political prisoners. The event is not particularly well known, partly because Iran went to considerable effort to make sure this was so, and partly because there was so much going on elsewhere at the time: the Soviet Union began pulling out of Afghanistan in May and a year later the Berlin Wall came down. A tribunal sitting in London until June 22nd is attempting to fill in the gaps, hearing testimony from survivors of the purge and from the relatives of those who went missing.

The killing was ordered by a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who became Supreme Leader of Iran after the revolution. It was relentless and efficient. Prisoners, including women and teenagers, were loaded onto forklift trucks and hanged from cranes and beams in groups of five or six at half-hourly intervals all day long. Others were killed by firing squad. Those not executed were subjected to torture. The victims were intellectuals, students, left-wingers, members of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (MEK), other opposition parties and ethnic and religious minorities. Many had originally been sentenced for non-violent offences such as distributing newspapers and leaflets, taking part

in demonstrations or collecting funds for prisoners’ families, according to a report published by Amnesty International, an NGO, in 1990.

The tribunal in London, which has no legal standing, will hear from 60 witnesses in total. They have come from the many countries where they live in exile and some asked not to be identified because they fear for the safety of relatives still in Iran. They describe prisons in which torture was routinely used to extract information, gather more names of people to arrest, and also to make prisoners repent and publicly repudiate their political and religious affiliations and beliefs. One witness said that one of his cellmates, a boy of 16, was raped by guards every night. Siavash Daneshvar, who was arrested in 1982 for being a member of Kurdistan’s Kumele party, described rooms underneath the wards at Evin prison from which could be heard the cries of prisoners being tortured at all hours. “They also had ‘coffins’ where prisoners stayed in for two, three, five or more months,” he said. Rahman Darkeshideh, who was arrested at 16 for possessing written slogans against the war, spent eight years in prison, including three in solitary confinement. “It was dark 24 hours a day. I had to relieve myself in the same cup I used for my tea,” he said. “I will suffer physically and mentally for the rest of my life.”

These testimonies, translated simultaneously into English, corroborated what was already known of the executions. In 2001 Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, former designated successor to Khomeini, published a memoir which contains details of the 1988 massacre, including a copy of Khomeini’s fatwa calling for the execution of all Mojahedins as “fighters against God” and all leftists as “apostates from Islam.” “There is a coherence amongst all the testimonies. They confirm the same story and match what was already known,” said Eric David, professor of public international law at Brussels University.

Iran had killed a large number of political prisoners throughout the 1980s, so why the sudden increase in 1988? The witnesses’ testimonies suggest that the regime was worried about the large number of unrepentant political prisoners due to be released after the end of the war with Iraq, and so decided to purge its prisons of troublesome elements once and for all.

Witnesses described how, in the months preceding the massacre, they were questioned and separated according to their political and religious beliefs, and moved across various prisons. Then they were called one-by-one in front of a makeshift court made up of an Islamic judge, a state prosecutor and a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence. They were asked: “Are you a Muslim”, “Do you pray?”, “What is your political affiliation?” and “Do you recant your beliefs and political activities?” If their answers didn’t satisfy the court they were sent for execution. Many must have had no idea why they were sent to the gallows. A witness told the commission that one of the clerics was holding his son on his lap. The little boy said: “Dear Papa, please also execute this one.”

Families were informed of the deaths months after they took place and were never told where their bodies were buried. “Four months after my brother’s death, my father was called to Evin prison and told that his son had been an apostate and there was no place in this world for him and no place in the other world either,” said Lawdan Bazargan.

The tribunal, which has enthusiastic backing from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has no power to do anything bar publicising the testimony of witnesses. A second tribunal will then convene in The Hague at the end of October. Neither gathering is likely to concern the people who arranged the killings too much. But at least they remedy what the relatives of victims mind about most—the forgetting of what happened one summer almost a quarter of a century ago.

Gulf Daily News

14th June 2012

New panel to unveil rights abuse truthsPosted on » Thursday, June 14, 2012
A TRUTH commission is being set up to hold the Islamic Republic of Iran to account for the massacre of thousands of political prisoners throughout the 1980s, it has been announced.The initiative is set to be launched at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in London on Sunday.It is the first time an international group has tried to bring legal action against the Iranian regime for its human rights abuses.The commission comes against a backdrop of escalating human rights abuses in the country, as documented in a recent report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Dr Ahmed Shaheed.It will hear the testimonies of people who escaped the prisons and those whose family and friends were executed in the 1980s prison massacres and will be heard in front of an international panel of experts including.The exact number of prisoners executed remains unclear, however, Amnesty International recorded the names of more than 4,480 political prisoners reportedly killed during this time, but Iranian opposition groups suggest that the number of prisoners executed was far higher and as many as 30,000 may have been killed.The Truth Commission will be followed by a further tribunal hearing at The Hague in October.

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