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A disturbing photograph

Saturday’s WSJ had a chilling photo on the front page. It showed a bunch of blindfolded men standing in an open field and facing them were another group of people with rifles in preparation for a mass execution. The command to fire had been given and men had started falling down. The picture shows men at the far end already on the ground, while the man on the far right still standing, waiting for the bullet to pierce his heart.  The photo captures that instant between life and death. It won the Pulitzer prize and the photographer’s name was withheld – till now.

This photo was taken in Iran in Aug. 27, 1979. Islamic radicals had overthrown the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini had taken control. The Kurds were looking for autonomy and troops were sent to supress it.

At the airport, Mr. Razmi stood ready outside the makeshift courtroom as 10 handcuffed men filled a wooden bench before the judge, a black-bearded Shiite cleric named Sadegh Khalkhali. An injured 11th prisoner lay on a stretcher beside the door.

The judge removed his turban, Mr. Bahrami recalls. He removed his shoes. He put his feet on a chair. Scanning the prisoners through thick eyeglasses, he asked their names. Officers of the court told of the defendants’ alleged crimes — of trafficking arms, inciting riots and murder. The prisoners, some with leftward or nationalist leanings, denied the accusations.

No evidence was presented, Mr. Bahrami says. “It was pure speculation.” After roughly 30 minutes, Mr. Khalkhali declared the 11 men “corrupt on earth” — mofsedin fel arz — the Koranic phrase he cited before issuing a sentence of death. A few of the men cried.

The caravan passed roughly 30 airport workers, both men say. Up front walked Mr. Razmi. In the rear, both men say, was Ali Karimi, one of the judge’s bodyguards, wearing white shoes, white pants, white shirt, sunglasses and twin hip holsters. After about 100 yards, an officer halted the condemned on a plain of dry dirt. All but one of the executioners tied about their own heads Iranian shawls called chafiyehs. Both the faces of the Shiites and the eyes of the Kurds were now concealed.[A Chilling Photograph’s Hidden History]

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