The Iranian regime’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, is scheduled to address a virtual session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Iranian diaspora will be holding a conference in Stockholm to draw attention once again to Raisi’s history of human rights violations and to condemn the international community for legitimizing his rule by sending emissaries to his inauguration last month and by giving in a platform at the UN now.
The Stockholm conference will feature eyewitness testimony from a number of former Iranian political prisoners who had dealings with Raisi while he served as a prosecutor and clerical judge. Many of those individuals witnessed the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, putting them in close proximity to the proceedings that killed over 30,000 people and had them interred in secret mass graves throughout the country. Most of the victims were the members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
Raisi played a leading role in that massacre, as one of four officials serving on a “death commission” in Tehran. Obtained documents by the Iranian Resistance also indicate that he was personally tasked, along with one other judge, to expand his jurisdiction into several other cities and pass capital sentences for the purpose of removing a perceived “weakness of the judiciary.” He was essentially given that mandate again in 2019 when the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Raisi as judiciary chief in the midst of a historic surge in popular unrest.
When a nationwide uprising broke out in November 2019 featuring slogans that had been popularized during a previous uprising in January 2018, Raisi assumed a leading role in the crackdown, directing the judiciary’s campaign of systematic torture following mass arrests. According to the MEK, at least 12,000 individuals were detained during and immediately after the uprising, and according to Amnesty International, the ensuing torture went on for several months.
This torture had fatal effects, or that it might still have fatal effects in the form of executions stemming from false confessions and the forced implication of others in plots to overthrow the theocratic dictatorship. Similarly, there is little doubt that the fatal consequences of additional crackdowns will be even more pronounced in the wake of international disregard for the regime’s crackdown on the 2019 uprising.
Soon after that uprising, the MEK reported that the death toll from mass shooting incidents had reached 1,500. This figure was later confirmed by a Reuters report that cited sources inside the regime’s Interior Ministry. Even then, the international response remained notably muted. Raisi’s speech to the UN General Assembly reinforces the entire regime’s sense of impunity regarding both of these issues, and thus regarding human rights abuses in general.
The world leader would surely come around to this realization if they listened to what the massacre’s survivors had to say about Raisi on Tuesday instead of listening to whatever Raisi has to say about Iranian “resistance” to Western “arrogance.” Unfortunately, their decision to do so depends upon them first shaking themselves loose from longstanding inertia in Western policy toward the Iranian regime, which has prompted major world powers to turn a blind eye to domestic conditions in Iran and continue reaching out to regime officials even when it is clear that those officials are implicated in terrorist acts and crimes against humanity.
Some legal scholars have underlined that the 1988 massacre was an act of genocide. Although Raisi’s actions on the Tehran death commission were technically aimed at stamping out a political opposition led by the MEK, the underlying order for the massacre was couched in religious terms, making it clear that the ultimate intention was to destroy a national community of adherents to any moderate faith that stood in opposition to the mullahs’ theocratic fundamentalism.
Raisi’s pending reception by the UN General Assembly represents a shocking betrayal of the most basic human rights principles. One need only look to the Stockholm conference on the day of Raisi’s speech in order to understand the seriousness of that betrayal. And anyone who does so should come away from the experience with a sense of urgency regarding the need to bring Raisi to justice in an international court.