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A site in the southern Iranian city of Ahvaz that is believed to be a mass grave of victims killed in extrajudicial executions in 1988. (file photo)

Iran is deliberately destroying or concealing mass graves of victims from a 1988 spate of extrajudicial executions of political detainees, according to a new report by the nongovernmental watchdog Amnesty International and the London-based Justice For Iran.

The April 30 report alleges Tehran is erecting buildings or constructing roads over at least seven locations where some of the estimated 5,000 victims of the political purge are believed to have been buried.

Amnesty International experts based their assessment on satellite imagery and testimony of eyewitnesses at the sites in Iran's Gilan, East Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Khuzestan, Khorasan Razavi, and Tehran provinces.

"The actions include: bulldozing; hiding the mass graves beneath new, individual burial plots; constructing concrete slabs, buildings, or roads over the mass graves; and turning the mass grave sites into rubbish dumps," the report states. "In at least three cases, the authorities appear to be planning actions that would further damage the mass graves."

The executions came at the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, which left more than 1 million people dead. When Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini accepted a UN-brokered cease-fire in July 1988, members of an Iranian opposition group called the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, which was based in Iraq and armed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, launched a surprise attack against Iran.

The attack was used as a pretext to round up political opponents who were sent to be executed by "death commissions." International rights monitors estimate a total of 5,000 people were killed, while the Mujahedeen-e Khalq says the real figure was 30,000.

Tehran has never openly acknowledged the executions, which are believed to have been ordered by Khomeini.

"It has not become a part of history yet," Justice For Iran Executive Director Shadi Sadr told the Associated Press. "As long as those responsible for the crimes are still in power…it's not something that belongs to the past."

With reporting by AP
Russians Protest Effort To Block Telegram Messaging App
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MOSCOW -- Thousands of demonstrators have protested in downtown Moscow against the Russian government's efforts to block the popular Telegram messaging app.

Protesters at the rally on April 30 chanted: "[President Vladimir] Putin is a Thief!" and called for freedom on the Internet.

Opposition politician Alekei Navalny was one of thousands of people at the protest organized by the Libertarian Party of Russia, which has called the attempts to block Telegram "a national shame."

Protesters held posters calling on the government to stop its attempts to block Telegram, which fell afoul of the authorities over its refusal to give the Federal Security Service (FSB) access to users' private messages.

Libertarian party chief Sergei Boiko led protesters in calls to "stop censorship on the Internet!"

While it has met with mixed success, the bid to block Telegram has deepened concerns that the government is seeking to silence dissent as Putin -- who has been president or prime minister since 1999 -- heads into a new six-year term.

Police briefly stopped Navalny and instructed him to avoid statements or actions that "do not correspond to the agenda of the gathering," which was held with the permission of the authorities.

Navalny told RFE/RL that he is very happy that the gathering was permitted by the Moscow authorities.

Navalny addressed the protesters, harshly criticizing the move by the government to block Telegram.

He said that police ordered him not to call on the protesters to join another rally scheduled by him for May 5.

"Therefore, I call you all NOT to take part in the rally on May 5," Navalny said sarcastically.

Navalny has not received permission to hold the rally, which the ardent Putin critic has dubbed "He Is Not A Tsar!"

Telegram supporters have been protesting since April 16, when state media regulator Roskomnadzor started enforcing a court ban on the app over its refusal to hand over encryption keys to the FSB.

Telegram has cited privacy concerns and called the FSB's demand unconstitutional. It has promised to keep the app running despite the ban.

Telegram co-founder Pavel Durov, who lives in self-imposed exile abroad, called the rally "unprecedented."

"I am proud that I and these people were born in the same country. Your energy changes the world," Durov wrote on the Vkontakte social-media site.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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