In early August 1988, Amir Atiabi, a 31-year-old leftist dissident, heard strange thumping sounds at night from his prison cell on the outskirts of Tehran. One night, Atiabi and another inmate decided to find out the source of the noise, and went to the shower room at the end of a corridor to see what was happening. Peeking through a window, they realized each thud was the sound of a dead body being thrown onto the back of a truck by the prison guards.
"After a while, the noises would stop because when you put bodies on top of other bodies you won't hear the noise anymore," Atiabi told the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre in 2009. What Atiabi saw that night was a glimpse into a systematic and widespread campaign by the state to rid the country of various political leanings. By the end of the summer, according to Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a close confidant of Ayatollah Khomeini and his picked successor from 1985 to 1989, somewhere around 4,200 political prisoners were summarily and extrajudicially executed by the death committees across the country. Khomeini dismissed Montazeri in March 1989, partly for his criticism of the prison massacre of 1988.