1946: Anton Mussert, Dutch collaborator 1979: Twenty-one by revolutionary courts of the Iranian Revolution

Daily Double: The Iranian Revolution

May 8th, 2013 Headsman

The 1979 Iranian Revolution that ousted the U.S.-installed Shah struck a rich vein of official enemies from the ancien regime to prosecute.

In that contested first year, the Revolution’s liberals resisted with futility the onset of revolutionary courts, with judges-as-prosecutors who dispatched foreordained summary justice to characters high and low. Bloodthirsty crowds often packed the proceedings: not a few of the attendees wanted whatever comeuppance the courts could visit on the Shah for the deaths of loved ones disappeared, tortured, or gunned down in the streets.

Legendary English foreign correspondent Robert Fisk covered the Iranian Revolution on the ground. He remembered later:

There was not much mercy in the Iranian revolution: all the courts did was sentence men to death. But then there hadn’t been much mercy before the revolution, when the Shah’s imperial guard, the Javidan, or “immortals,” slaughtered the crowds. I remember another court, in Tehran, where a man shouted at a torturer from the notorious Savak security service: “You killed my daughter. She was burned all over her flesh until she was paralysed. She was roasted.” And the torturer looked back at the bereaved man and said quietly: “Your daughter hanged herself after seven months in custody.”

Photographs of the condemned, and even the executions, would hit the next day’s papers even while the next trial was underway.


Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dramatic firing squad execution in Sanandaj, August 1979.

The world press in that pregnant year has a steady drumbeat of execution announcements — six here, eleven there, and ballpark-only running counts mounting into the hundreds. For the most part, those that saw ink in the West were a random assortment of faceless ex-policemen or alleged spies on a day when the World roundup had a spare column-inch. But for the next two days, we have particularly noteworthy exemplars of justice in revolutionary Iran.

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One thought on “Daily Double: The Iranian Revolution”

  1. Meaghan says:

    I had a math professor who was a refugee from Iran, from the days of the Shah. I don’t know what he did exactly, but whatever it was, his life was in danger. He escaped over the Iranian border in a bus, disguised as a woman in a chador with a scarf over his face. The other people on the bus helped him. At the border when the guards counted everyone and realized there was one more person than there were supposed to be, the other passengers hid him somewhere and the guards re-counted and got the right number and thought they’d made a mistake the first time around.

    He was fortunate, not only in escaping Iran but in having a PhD in mathematics when he went. In short order he got himself a tenure-track professorship and, eventually, citizenship.

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