It has been almost a month since Ebrahim Raisi was appointed as the next president of the Iranian regime. The word “appointed” is a much more appropriate descriptor than “elected” in light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people sat out the June 18 sham election in order to show their desire for regime change and underline the regime’s illegitimacy.
While the entire selection process in Iran under the mullahs’ regime is undemocratic, Raisi ran a campaign that was effectively uncontested on account of his having the enthusiastic personal support of the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The Guardian Council, a 12-member body appointed directly and indirectly by the supreme leader, rewarded that support by excluding all other candidates from the ballot, leaving one official from the outgoing administration to act as a scapegoat in debates with Raisi and four other so-called “hardliners,” half of whom dropped out of the race at the last minute to throw their weight behind him as well.
That support was countered by public protests from the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which has long described Raisi as the “henchman of 1988” on account of his leading role in that year’s massacre of political prisoners, which primarily targeted the MEK on the basis of a fatwa from Ruhollah Khomeini which declared them enemies of God. The massacre claimed over 30,000 lives nationwide, and as one of the members of the Tehran “death commission” at the time, Raisi arguably bears responsibility for a majority of them.
In the lead-up to Raisi’s latest appointment, he was also targeted by protests from those Iranian citizens who lost family members in a much more recent massacre. In November 2019, Iran was rocked by a nationwide uprising that encompassed nearly 200 cities and towns and featured anti-regime slogans like “death to the dictator.” Having already faced down those slogans on a similarly large less than two years earlier, the regime was anxious to stamp out the dissident activity much more definitively. Khamenei ordered immediate reprisals and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps soon responded by opening fire on crowds of protesters, killing 1,500 in a matter of days.
The aftermath of those shootings was just as grim, and although it has never been made clear just how much the death toll rose in the ensuing months, there is no doubt that the regime’s judiciary tortured hundreds if not thousands of arrestees during that period. This was confirmed in a detailed report by Amnesty International, and intelligence networks affiliated with the MEK established that upwards of 12,000 people have been directly impacted by the domestic terror campaign after being arrested in connection with the uprising.
All of this reflects upon Raisi’s history of brutality because he was the judiciary chief at the time of the 2019 crackdown, having been appointed earlier that year by Khamenei.
Awareness of the undemocratic process of election in Iran helped to fuel participation in last month’s electoral boycott, as well as a similar boycott the prior year during the sham parliamentary election. In both instances, even Tehran acknowledged that voter turnout was historically low. But in the more recent instance, the MEK has credibly accused the regime of inflating the relevant statistics to retain some semblance of political legitimacy. The MEK pointed to the work of around 1,200 journalists as supporting the conclusion that polling places were largely empty on June 18 and that more than 90 percent of eligible voters either stayed home or deliberately cast invalid ballots.
Such a powerful statement is driven by much more than anger at Raisi’s criminal background or at the exclusion of an alternative faction. In fact, the message of both electoral boycotts was previously expressed in the slogans associated with the November 2019 uprising and a previous uprising in January 2018. Those mass protests included the explicit condemnation of both the “hardline” and the “reformist” factions as participants in a power-sharing “game” that masked the fundamental lack of political representation and civilian rights in Iran.
In both 2020 and 2021, MEK-affiliated “Resistance Units” posted messages in public spaces and held illicit demonstrations instructing all Iranians to “vote for regime change.”
Given the reach of that message and the known connections between the MEK and the prior uprisings, it is fair to conclude that the historically low turnout in last month’s election was an overwhelming endorsement of regime change by the Iranian population as a whole. It is absolutely vital that the entire international community pays attention to that message as Tehran gets ready for its presidential transition and the world tries to get a grip on how Iranian affairs may change in this new era.
As Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of NCRI underlined during the Free Iran World Summit on July 10-12, “As far as the international community is concerned, we ask it to recognize the struggle of the Iranian people to overthrow this regime and recognize these three concepts.
We want to bring to justice the mullahs’ supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, his president, Ebrahim Raisi, his Judiciary Chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejeii, and others responsible for the 1988 massacre on charges of committing crimes against humanity and genocide.
We urge the UN Security Council to arrange for the international prosecution of Mullah Raisi and holding him accountable for crimes against humanity and to refuse to accept his presence at the next session of the UN General Assembly.”