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IranWire Exclusive: Audio File of Generals' Execution Recalls the Horror of 1979 Iran

May 15, 2021
Niloufar Rostami
11 min read
A then-journalist present for part of the trial in a converted classroom told IranWire he had left after 30 minutes, unable to stomach the atmosphere
A then-journalist present for part of the trial in a converted classroom told IranWire he had left after 30 minutes, unable to stomach the atmosphere
The content of this brief recording is enough to show the deep disquiet some of those present expressed during the execution
The content of this brief recording is enough to show the deep disquiet some of those present expressed during the execution

IranWire has received a four-minute, nine-second audio recording of the charges read against and execution of four generals acting under the Shah in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Those killed were General Nematollah Nassiri, the then-head of Savak (the Shah’s secret police), General Mehdi Rahimi, commander of Tehran Police and Tehran’s then-military commander, General Reza Naji, the military commander of Isfahan, and General Manouchehr Khosrodad, then-commander of Army Aviation.

The audio clip comes from a reliable source. The quality of the audio and its content speak volumes as to the injustice of the trial, and the extent to which others present disagreed with the execution. Amongst others, the voice of Ebrahim Yazdi,the Revolutionary Council member who oversaw the trial, can be clearly identified.

According to media reports at the time, the trial of Rahimi, Nasiri, Naji and Khosrodad began on the morning of February 15, 1979 and lasted until 7pm. A few hours after the trial concluded, at a quarter to midnight, the four were shot by four young men.

Only nominal photos and video clips of the trial still exist. But they indicate that only a few people were present at the trial, which took place in a converted school classroom: including the then-journalist Rasoul Sadr Ameli.

Sadr Ameli had begun his career as a journalist at the age of 17. Shortly before the revolution and while he at university in France, he reported for the newspaper Etela’at on Ruhollah Khomeini, who was in exile in France at the time.

Upon his return to Iran, Sadr Ameli continued working for Etela’at. As the journalist on the night shift, he was assigned to report on the generals' trial and ended up witnessing 30 minutes of the hearing.

This former journalist listened to the audio clip sent to IranWire, and agreed to talk to us about the harrowing events of that night.

Sadr Ameli told IranWire that when he heard the audio file, and the voice of Ebrahim Yazdi, who he confirmed had presided over the trial, he was taken straight back to those bitter days. Forty-three years on, he still remembers the night of the trial in February 1979, which he confirms took place at the Refah School - though he said it took place over a few days, not hours, as was reported at the time.

A Night he Will Always Remember

"I am 24 years old in these photos," Sadr Ameli said of the images the press used when documenting the trial. "I don’t remember the exact time and date of the trial. It was dusk, and it happened between February 12 and February 14.

"I was a student at Montpellier Univeristy in France before the revolution. It had been a year since Ayatollah Khomeini came to Paris. One day, Gholam Hossein Salehyar, the editor-in-chief of the Etela'at newspaper, sent a telex to the university office, asking me to go to Paris and see what was going on there.

"But my arrival in Paris coincided with the departure of Ayatollah Khomeini to Neauphle-le-Château. When I got there and realized that Mr. Khomeini was not there, I went to Neauphle-le-Château by bus from Paris. I used to regularly send my photos and news reports to the newspaper offices in Tehran, through people who were traveling there.

"In those days, I got acquainted with Khomeini's entourage, and on February 1, along with Khomeini's team, we returned to Iran on a flight from Paris. Nooshabeh Amiri, a reporter for Kayhan newspaper, was also on that flight. At the time, our guess was that we would be able to get into the Refah School through my connections.

”On that night, Ahmad Reza Daryaei, may God have mercy on him, was the duty editor. He called me and said that apparently General Nasiri had surrendered himself and was now at the Refah School, and he asked me to go and see what was going on. There was no news of Rahimi's arrest [at the time].

"I was on the night shift at the time, going to the office at about five in the evening and working until seven in the morning. After Mr. Daryaei called, we went to the Refah School on Iran Street with the photographer. I was looking for Haj Ahmad Khomeini [Ruhollah Khomeini’s son] to let me into the courtroom, because I had met him in Neauphle-le-Château, but I couldn't find him. I stood behind the door for about an hour, maybe a little longer, until finally someone named Haj Mehdi Araghi took me inside. I waited behind the door for more than an hour to find someone to let me in, but after that, I couldn't tolerate the room for more than half an hour.

"It was a strange night. We had heard that Nasiri and Rahimi were both very serious, unapproachable people, but suddenly here they were, sat on chairs in one of the second-floor classrooms of Refah School.

"There were three or four other people in the room, including Ebrahim Yazdi, and a TV camera. I was anxious; you can see that on my face in the photos. My voice trembled as I spoke. I told myself: ‘Hold it together’, and to concentrate and not get caught up in the mood. ‘Ask your questions politely and professionally,’ I told myself.

"Believe me, I don't remember my questions. I was stressed. I didn't have the opportunity to prepare beforehand. All of a sudden I was put in an entirely new situation. I asked Nasiri three or four questions, and he answered politely and kindly.

"While I was there, they could not speak freely. The atmosphere was so full of anger they didn’t have a chance to defend themselves. They were both repeatedly insulted, and stayed mostly silent.

“The behavior of the people in the room, including Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, was bad. I said to myself: ‘This is not right.’ I couldn't stay there more than half an hour. I felt bad because of all the disrespect in that room. I later found out that Reza Naji and the others were in the basement of the school at the same time.

“I think it was about 10.30pm or 11pm when I got out of there, and I didn’t go back in. I remember the street was deserted. I walked all the way to the newspaper office. I did not sleep well that night.”

Sadr Ameli said that another journalist from national television was also present. The footage that journalist took was shown to the public only once, during the early days of the revolution.

Sounds of an Execution

In the audio recording received by IranWire, a member of the Revolutionary Court can be heard reading out the indictment. It is very short, sparse on legal terminology, and delivered in an angry, vindictive tone of voice. Of General Reza Naji, Isfahan’s military commander, the speaker says: “Isfahan’s military commander, the culprit in the massacre and the killing of people of Najaf Abad.”

The charges against General Mehdi Rahimi, Tehran’s police chief and military commander, are as follows: “In the little over a month that he was the police and the military commander, hundreds of people were killed in Tehran at his command. As everybody remembers, even on his last day in office, he extended martial law from 12 noon to 4.30 pm. Every day he issued a statement as the military commander threatening people with death.”

What he has to say in the tape about General Nassiri, head of Savak, could well apply to today’s Iran: “General Nassiri was the head of Savak for 13 years and he presided over 13 years of oppression, 13 years of massacres and 13 years of killing our people.”

The last to be indicted was General Manouchehr Khosrodad. “General Manouchehr Khosrodad," the Guards member says, "commander of Army Aviation and one who personally executed two seminary students at the home of Ayatollah Shariatmadari, and ordered the executions of many more.”

Finishing the reading of the so-called indictments, he then announces: “They have been tried at the people’s court, have been sentenced to death and the death sentence against them is immediately carried out.”

Before he finishes his sentence gunshots begin to ring out, one after another. The barrage of bullets lasts so long that somebody else can be heard shouting repeatedly: “Enough, sir. Enough!”

At the end of the tape a younger voice shouts: “General Nassiri, General Rahimi, General Khosrodad and General Naji have been sentenced to death by order of the Revolutionary Council, and the death sentences has been carried out by order of Imam Khomeini.”

According to a report published on Friday, February 16 by Etela’at newspaper, the trial of Rahimi and Nasiri, along with Major General Reza Naji and Major General Khosrodad, had begun on the morning of February 15 and continued until 7pm. A few hours after the meeting and at a quarter to midnight, the report says, the four were shot dead by four young men. Kayhan published the same, but added:  "21 other criminals were sentenced to death."

Rasoul Sadr Ameli cast his mind back to the converted classroom where Rahimi and Nasiri were held. "I will never forget their faces. There was disbelief and amazement on them, and of course on the faces of some of us present. Rahimi and Nasiri looked as if they thought the door might open at any moment and someone from the monarchy or the army would say, ‘We just wanted to test you.’

"They kept looking behind them. It was as if none of them could believe it was real, or that they would be executed soon. Commander Nasiri's situation was very messy; his neck was badly injured and he was coughing while talking, and his voice was hoarse. But Rahimi spoke very powerfully, firmly and seriously. Ebrahim Yazdi, on the other hand, was very angry and rude."

Asked whether he thought the executions were justified under Islamic law, he said: ”I did not, and have not, agreed with execution at any point in my life."

In the photographs and videos of the Refah School trial, General Nasiri can be seen with his head and neck bandaged. In the post-execution photos, the same intricate bandages can be seen around his neck. 

There’s another photo of Nasiri from those days, taken before his injuries. He is seen sitting in a chair in front of a blackboard with words written on it.

Sadr Ameli confirmed that Sadegh Khalkhali, the chief justice of the Revolutionary Court and Khomeini's main "hanging judge", was not in charge of trials during that period. Khalkhali’s memoirs also discuss Ebrahim Yazdi’s role in Rahimi and Nasiri’s trial: "Ebrahim Yazdi, the first deputy prime minister who later became the minister of foreign affairs in the interim government, was one of those who interfered in everything, and had become an interrogator.

"He tried Nasiri and Rahimi on the second floor of the Refah School, and I was there at the time. Even though they knew I had been appointed by Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] as a judge and was an expert in Sharia, they paid no attention and did as they pleased, trying to curry favor with the people."

Rasoul Sadr Ameli said that Alireza Nourizadeh, who worked on the political desk for Etela’at, had personally edited all the political articles himself. "I submitted my article to Nourizadeh in the morning and left. The whole team in the newsroom at the time, including Gholamhossein Salehyar, the editor, Mohammad Heidari, Ahmad Reza Daryaei, Mohammad Ebrahimian, and Alireza Nourizadeh, did their best to record events."

After that night, Sadr Ameli witnessed one more trial: that of Amir Abbas Hoveyda, the last prime minister under the Shah. "After that, I did not attend any more sessions at Refah School. I couldn't bear it.

"When I found out they had been executed, I really didn’t want to go back. At the same time, it would have been difficult to enter the courtrooms and I would have had to gain people's trust. Sometime later, the executions were transferred from the Refah School to Ghasr Prison.

"That’s when I attended the first session of Amir Abbas Hoveyda's trial. I cried during his. One would expect the trial of the man who had been Iranian prime minister for 13 years to be attended by journalists, and that he would be asked key questions, but none of this happened. The courtroom was empty.

"Those were days of excitement and anger, and journalists did not feel obliged to attend. There were no TV cameras there to record it either. I knew it was impossible to talk to Khalkhali, the judge. There was a gentleman named Karimi who was writing the indictment. I urged him to let the TV camera in the room. I said, ‘This is our history, and it should be recorded.’ Fortunately then, during the second session, someone came from national TV.”

Rasoul Sadr Ameli left journalism soon afterward, in 1981. He turned to filmmaking, securing a fanbase after the release of his 2001 film "I am Taraneh, I am 15 years old”.

"I have always loved journalism," he said. "I still love it. But I went into working in cinema because I knew I could no longer work for the press. We do not have a media that publishes for the people. Journalists have to work for political groups. In such a situation, there is no honor working for a newspaper. At one time, it was only the Kayhan and Etela'at newspapers, but after a while, the enthusiasm for competition even between these two newspapers disappeared because of restrictions and over-politicization."



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