United Nations should investigate Ebrahim Raisi


Ebrahim Raisi remains proud of his role as a ruthless hanging judge; condemning political dissidents to death was his way of “defending the security of the people. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald

Ebrahim Raisi is the President-elect of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was also the Deputy Prosecutor in Tehran who, as part of a panel of four “hanging judges,” ordered the execution of 5,000 political dissidents in 1988. Since then Raisi has continued to play a role in other murders, as of those hundreds of non-violent protesters in 2019 who were killed by the police – a crime that the Iranian state never investigated. The UN investigator on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, who teaches international law in London, has called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 and the role played in them by President-elect Ebrahim Raisi when he was the Tehran deputy prosecutor.

The story of Rehman’s demand is here: “UN Expert Backs Probe Into Iran’s 1988 Killings, Raisi’s Role,” Algemeiner, June 29, 2021:

Javaid Rehman, in an interview with Reuters on Monday, said that over the years his office has gathered testimonies and evidence. It was ready to share them if the United Nations Human Rights Council or other body sets up an impartial investigation.

He said he was concerned at reports that some “mass graves” are being destroyed as part of a continuing cover-up.

“I think it is time and it’s very important now that Mr. Raisi is the president (-elect) that we start investigating what happened in 1988 and the role of individuals,” Rehman said from London, where he teaches Islamic law and international law.

A probe was in the interest of Iran and could bring closure to families, he said, adding: “Otherwise we will have very serious concerns about this president and the role, the reported role, he has played historically in those executions.”

It’s hard to imagine Iran ever agreeing to cooperate with any outside investigation, by the UNHRC or by any other body. But that does not mean that UNHRC should not go forward with such an investigation of mass killings of dissidents in Iran. Even without Iranian cooperation, Javaid Rehman has plenty to work with. His office has for years been collecting testimonies from those whose relatives and friends were executed in 1988, and other evidence, including visual evidence – satellite imagery of mass grave sites — that could be supplied to the investigators. The role of Ebrahim Raisi, now that he is the President-elect and will soon be the second most powerful official in Iran, should be the main focus of the inquiry.

Raisi, a hardline judge, is under US sanctions over a past that includes what the United States and activists say was his involvement as one of four judges who oversaw the 1988 killings. Amnesty International has put the number executed at some 5,000, saying in a 2018 report that “the real number could be higher.”

There were no real trials for the more than 5,000 political prisoners condemned to death by Ebrahim Raisi and three other judges in 1988. Names were called, charges read out, sentences quickly handed down. No defense lawyers or defense witnesses, no lengthy deliberations, no one found innocent, and all the sentences were the same – execution – and swiftly carried out.

Raisi, when asked about allegations that he was involved in the killings, told reporters: “If a judge, a prosecutor has defended the security of the people, he should be praised … I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far.”

Raisi remains proud of his role as a ruthless hanging judge; condemning political dissidents to death was his way of “defending the security of the people.” He is unrepentant. He believes that he should be not criticized but “praised” for his role; he declared that “I am proud to have defended human rights.” In his topsy-turvical moral universe, killing 5,000 political dissidents constituted an admirable act.

Rehman said: “We have made communications to the Islamic Republic of Iran because we have concerns that there is again a policy to actually destroy the graves or there may be some activity to destroy evidence of mass graves.”

Of course, the Islamic Republic is destroying the mass graves of the 5,000 dissidents that they had killed in 1988 and the graves, too, of lesser numbers of victims, political dissidents and street protesters who have been intermittently killed up to the present day. Given the certain refusal of the Iranian government to allow any investigation inside Iran, there may still be ways to obtain evidence of mass graves, and attempts to destroy them, through the use of satellite imagery. And the many Iranians in European and American exile stand ready to provide their own testimonies about the Iranian regime’s atrocities.

“I will campaign for justice to be done,” he added.

Raisi succeeds Hassan Rouhani on Aug. 3, having secured victory this month in an election marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.

Voter apathy was really voter despair: 52% of the electorate didn’t bother to vote, because they knew that the fix was in for the hardline Raisi to be elected president, which meant there would be no change in the oppressive regime they have to endure. So why vote? And of those who did show up at the polls, 3.7 million Iranians chose to mangle or otherwise destroy their ballots, again expressing widespread disaffection with the government. Rage over the mismanagement and corruption that have led to a near-collapse of the economy, fury over a police state that punishes – that kills – dissidents, have reached what many believe is a boiling point; if Iranians again take to the streets as they did in 2019, this time all over Iran, they will be hard to contain. Some think the regime is coming near its end. Javaid Rehman’s investigation of mass killings might help to topple it.

Rehman denounced what he called “deliberate and manipulative strategies adopted to exclude moderate candidates and to ensure the success of a particular candidate”. He had in mind the recent election of Ebrahim Raisi to the presidency.

To exclude moderate candidates, the Iranian regime took three steps. First, the Guardian Council of Islamic clerics and scholars whittled down the original field of 592 candidates to 7, all of them hardline Islamists. Then those seven were further reduced to four candidates, those deemed most fanatical in their faith and in their loyalty to the regime. But only one candidate, Raisi, was given extensive, and favorable, attention in the Iranian media; he was clearly the chosen candidate of the regime. And sure enough, Raisi was elected, although with only 60% of the 48% of the electorate that bothered to vote at all. Do the math; you discover that Raisi received less than 30% of the total votes that could have been cast. Raisi’s victory was not, as the government crowed, a “landslide.”

During the Presidential campaign, “There were arrests, journalists were stopped from asking specific questions about the background of the presidential candidate Mr Raisi and there was intimidation towards any issues that were raised about his previous role and background.”

The arrests of journalists, and the prevention of any questions being asked bout Raisi’s history, through physical intimidation, made sure that his role as a hanging judge in 1988 was never publicly discussed. Everything was done to protect Raisi and to suppress news about anything in his past that might damage his chances.

Iran has never acknowledged that mass executions took place under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolutionary leader who died in 1989.

“The scale of executions that we hear imply that it was a part of a policy that was being pursued … It was not just one person,” Rehman said.

He said there had also been “no proper investigation” into the killing of protesters in Nov. 2019, the bloodiest political unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Along with the mass executions of 5,000 political dissidents in 1988, in 2019 there were killings of hundreds of economic protesters on the streets of Iranian cities, and no one has ever been charged with those murders, nor any recompense offered by the state to families of the victims.

“Even by conservative estimates we can say that more than 300 people were killed arbitrarily, extrajudicially, and nobody has been held accountable and no compensation,” he said.

“There is a widespread and systemic impunity in the country for gross violations of human rights, both historically in the past as well as in the present.”

All over Europe and North America, there are tens of thousands of Iranian exiles, sworn enemies of the monstrous regime that took control of their country 42 years ago. Like Javaid Rehman, some have been collecting evidence, from relatives, friends, fellow dissidents both outside and still in Iran, of the regime’s many crimes. If mass grave sites are now being destroyed, there is still likely to be satellite imagery — American or Israeli — that has captured before-and-after pictures of those sites.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi provides the perfect justification for opening an investigation, with or without UN sponsorship, into the crimes of the Islamic Republic against its own citizens. The Biden Administration, which likes to emphasize its commitment to human rights, should offer Javaid Rehman and his fellows its enthusiastic support, including funding if the U.N. fails to provide it. The world needs to see what kind of a man Ebrahim Raisi, the new president of Iran, so unrepentantly is, and what his mass-murdering past tells us – one more bit of grim evidence – about the unspeakable regime of which he is now second in command.


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