The Iranian people boycotted the regime’s sham presidential election. Nevertheless, the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, pulled Ebrahim Raisi out of the ballot box despite the massive boycott of the Iranian people.
Ebrahim Raisi’s designation as the next president was met with public protests which condemned him as the “henchman of 1988” and also highlighted his more recent contribution to the regime’s record of human rights abuses when he served as head of the judiciary from March 2019 until after his presidential “selection.”
Chief among those recent abuses was the crackdown on a nationwide uprising that broke out in November 2019 and revived anti-regime slogans like “death to the dictator” which had defined a prior uprising in January 2018. Panicked by the persistent signs of popular support for regime change, Iranian authorities opened fire on crowds of protesters at the outset of the latter uprising. According to the Iranian Resistance, over 1,500 people were killed in this way; and that figure was later confirmed by a Reuters report that cited sources from within Iran’s Interior Ministry.
Later, Amnesty International published a report on the crackdown under the title “Trampling Humanity.” It detailed how in the aftermath of the mass shootings, Raisi’s judiciary oversaw the systematic torture of political detainees, over a period of several months in facilities all across Iran. Although precise details remain elusive, there is little doubt that that repressive campaign expanded the death toll well beyond the initial 1,500. Yet regardless of what the final death toll from the 2019 crackdown turns out to be, it will still pale in comparison to the death toll from one of the single worst crimes against humanity to take place anywhere during the latter half of the 20th century.
Raisi’s label as the “henchman of 1988” stems from his role as one of four officials to serve on the Tehran “death commission” that was created in response to a fatwa targeting the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and other dedicated opponents of the theocratic dictatorship. In it, the regime’s founder and first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, declared all members of the MEK guilty of “enmity against God” and ordered subordinate officials to kill them systematically and without mercy. The procedures established by the Tehran death commission were soon emulated in various other cities over the course of three months, and the nationwide death toll among political prisoners climbed to above 30,000.
Raisi is bears a great deal of the responsibility for individual killings as well as the overall scale of the massacre. In a conference in Stockholm on Tuesday, coinciding with Raisi’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly, a former Iranian political prisoner by the name of Nasrollah Marandi said, “Most of us who were in Evin and Gohardasht prisons saw Ebrahim Raisi in the death commission, and he sent thousands of prisoners to the gallows.
Many of our friends witnessed the execution of many [MEK] members by Raisi in Hamedan and Karaj.” Marandi then added that the international community’s apparent embrace of Raisi’s presidency was a “betrayal to the ideals of democracy and human rights.”
Iranian activists highlighted that betrayal on the day of Raisi’s inauguration by criticizing the European Union for sending Enrique Mora, the deputy political director of the European External Action Service, to attend the ceremony and help legitimize the Raisi administration in the eyes of the West. This, of course, stood in direct contrast to the message that the Iranian people and the Iranian Resistance had sent with their organized boycott of the sham presidential election, and all the attendant public protests.
The EU’s mistake was not just ignoring the will of the Iranian people, but also reinforcing a longstanding sense of impunity enjoyed by the entire clerical regime. One of the earliest contributors to that impunity was the international neglect of the 1988 massacre. The surge in politically motivated killings around that time was a matter of public record, and was even mentioned in a UN resolution on Iran’s human rights at the end of that year. However, as a group of UN human rights experts noted in an open letter last year, all relevant UN bodies failed to follow up on that resolution in any meaningful way.
The letter acknowledged that this failure “had a devastating impact on the survivors and families as well as on the general situation of human rights in Iran.” Tehran’s impunity with regard to the 1988 massacre and human rights in general has translated into an expectation of the same impunity with regard to all of its other malign activities.
This is reflected in the entire composition of the Raisi administration. While his appointment, in and of itself, is arguably the regime’s most blatant endorsement of the 1988 massacre, the subsequent appointment of cabinet ministers and heads of government agencies reflects similar endorsement of crimes and provocations whose consequences extend far beyond the borders of Iran.
The new head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami, has no scientific qualifications but has been involved in the procurement of equipment and know-how with applications to weaponization since the earliest days of Iran’s nuclear program. The vast majority of Raisi’s advisors have previously served high in the ranks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, often with a focus on extraterritorial operations and the support of regional terrorist groups. The new Interior Minister, Ahmad Vahidi, is even subject to an Interpol arrest warrant as a result of being directly implicated in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
In August, after Raisi announced more than a dozen cabinet appointments, the NCRI’s Presdident-elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi described the emerging administration as “the embodiment of four decades of mullahs’ religious dictatorship and terrorism, whose primary mission is to confront the people’s uprising, and to plunder the national wealth, step up terrorism and warmongering, and expand the unpatriotic nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
In subsequent speeches, Mrs. Rajavi reiterated her calls for more assertive Western policies toward the clerical regime, as well as measures leading to Ebrahim Raisi’s international prosecution for his role in the 1988 massacre. In absence of such a policy shift, Tehran’s sense of impunity is sure to become even more fixed, with severe consequences for the Iranian people and the international community alike.