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Iranian police and security forces have prevented families from holding an annual commemoration of the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, in spite of pleas by Amnesty International to allow the gathering to take place. The event would have marked the 20th anniversary of nationwide executions of political prisoners, which followed a cease-fire in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

An individual whose brother and two other relatives were among those executed told Radio Farda on condition of anonymity that the police did not even let the families approach the Khavaran cemetery near Tehran where the victims are buried. The mourner said that plain-clothes police and special forces were among the security officers deployed to prevent the mourners from visiting the graves, and added that the families plan to return to the site to hold their commemoration on Sunday, August 31.

Families have assembled each year to remember the victims. In the past nineteen years of commemorations, many participants have been beaten or arrested, but the relatives were always allowed to mourn in Khavaran, under the surveillance of ordinary and secret police accompanied by men with clubs.

The Iranian regime has not admitted to the executions, despite reports published by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other international human rights groups. A publication that wrote about the mass executions, "Arya," was banned in 1999 and the writer of the article was imprisoned for over a year. in 2007, French-Iranian documentary filmmaker Mehrnoush Solouki, who had filmed the mass graves in Khavaran, was imprisoned for a month and then barred from leaving Iran for over a year. The news about the executions leaked in 1988 as a result of the publication of a letter of protest written by Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri, the heir apparent to Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which cost Montazeri his position.

-- Mossadegh Katouzian
Thomas Hammarberg
The war between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia sparked rampant looting in villages in the conflict zone, a European human rights envoy says, while urging both sides to pay attention to humanitarian needs.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, said after a visit to South Ossetia and Georgia proper that the recognition of South Ossetia was "complicating humanitarian efforts and the [refugees'] right to return."

"Have political moves disturbed human rights efforts? The answer is 'yes.' I felt throughout the mission that human rights issues have been secondary to other considerations," he told a news conference in Moscow today.

He said that authorities must calm conditions on the ground so people in hiding and those who fled their homes would feel safe returning.

Hammarberg, who will report on his findings and make recommendations to the governments of Russia and Georgia, said widespread looting remains a significant problem.

"There is what I call a policing vacuum, not least around Tskhinvali and Gori, which makes it possible for thugs to roam the streets and use this disruption for bad purposes," he says.

-- Reuters

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