In 1988, Ebrahim Raisi was serving as the deputy public prosecutor in Tehran when he became one of the leading figures in a “death commission” tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views and affiliations in the Iranian capital. Thirty-one years later, he was appointed as head of the entire nation’s judiciary, and two years after that, the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei put him forward as the only viable candidate to succeed the outgoing President Hassan Rouhani.
On June 18, Raisi’s promotion to the second-highest office in the Iranian regime was confirmed. Tehran attempted to portray this as the result of a popular election, but elections in the Iranian regime have never been free or fair, and on this occasion, the overwhelming majority of eligible voters participated in an electoral boycott aimed at condemning Raisi’s candidacy as well as the entire system behind it.
According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, less than one in ten voters cast ballots in the presidential election, and of those who did, many cast deliberately invalid ballots. This conclusion is backed up by thousands of video clips showing empty polling places. Government authorities did their best to broadcast staged scenes of electoral activity on state media outlets, but even they acknowledge that voter turnout last month was the lowest in the history of the Iranian regime.
“I short, very few people actually voted for Raisi,” said former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday, in a speech to the Free Iran World Summit. The three-day event brought together Iranian expatriate activists and over a thousand political dignitaries from throughout the world to discuss Iranian affairs and global policies toward the Iranian regime, often in the context of the changes wrought by Raisi’s “election.”
Pompeo described that election as “taking place when the theocratic regime is at its most precarious state since 1979,” a time when “its prospects of survival are openly questioned by regime insiders and challenged by a restive, freedom-loving nation.”
The former top US diplomat went on to argue that the US and its allies should amplify that challenge by demonstrating genuine support for the Iranian people in forthcoming conflicts with the repressive regime. One concrete way of doing that is by pushing for a commission of inquiry into the regime’s past crimes against humanity, and particularly the role played by the new president.
“The United States should take the lead to hold him accountable,” Pompeo said, adding that “any dealings with Raisi would be tantamount to dealing with a mass murderer. This is not only immoral but also counterproductive.”
Throughout the summit, various other speakers similarly condemned the prospect of treating Raisi as a legitimate representative of Iran. Many also emphasized the notion that Western powers had made mistakes by taking this approach with other Iranian leaders and diplomats, leading to an expectation of impunity on their part.
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) July 11, 2021
Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the said in her speech on the second day, “The Western countries’ interactions with the mullahs’ regime have fed a vicious cycle of deception and appeasement.” At the time, she was referring in particular to the strategies underlying the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but through three speeches over three days, she made it clear that the Resistance movement sees Iran as having received appeasement in exchange for deception in a number of areas, including that of human rights.
Since the time of the “death commissions,” Iranian authorities have been systematically destroying mass graves in which their victims were interred. It is estimated that over the course of about three months in 1988, over 30,000 political prisoners were executed, the vast majority of them being members of the MEK. Amnesty International has issued a number of urgent action statements in recent years regarding the destruction of evidence related to this massacre, and last year seven UN human rights experts did the same in a wide-ranging letter to Iranian authorities about the topic.
On its surface, that letter appealed to the Iranian authorities to pursue accountability within their own ranks. But it also noted that if Tehran refused to follow that recommendation, the responsibility would fall to the international community, which had failed to respond appropriately to information about the killings both during and immediately after the 1988 massacre.
That year, the experts noted, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution expressing “grave concern” about “a renewed wave of executions,” yet the matter was not followed up on by the General Assembly, the Security Council, or the Human Rights Commission. “The failure of these bodies to act had a devastating impact on the survivors and families as well as on the general situation of human rights in Iran and emboldened Iran to… maintain a strategy of deflection and denial,” the letter read.
Last December, that letter was published for a global audience, signaling the expiration of a waiting period during which the Iranian regime declined to offer any meaningful response. This defiance should have prompted more intense international calls to action, which should have ramped up even further as it became increasingly clear that Raisi was exploiting his role as head of the judiciary to expand the legacy of the 1988 massacre.
This trend was particularly obvious in the wake of a popular uprising in November 2019, which led authorities to gun down 1,500 protesters and arrest thousands of others, many of whom would be tortured by the judiciary over a period of months. This no doubt helped to fuel protests over the judiciary chief’s eventual ascension to the presidency, but it remains to be seen whether it will give those protests the international and multilateral character they richly deserve.
Fortunately, pressure in favor of foreign intervention is mounting in the wake of the Free Iran World Summit, and it is being expressly presented as a remedy for the international community’s prior failings. Mark Demesmaeker, a Member of the European Parliament from Belgium, said during that summit, “That Ebrahim Raisi has been installed as president instead of being prosecuted for crimes against humanity is a tragic demonstration of the international community’s failure to address the structural crisis in Iran.”
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a former vice president of the European Parliament, addressed part of his remarks directly to Western policymakers who have favored direct engagement with Iranian human rights abusers in the past. “You are discrediting yourself by continuing to appease the mullahs,” he said. “If you don’t turn your back on the mullahs, you will be trampling upon European values that millions of people have died for.”
Former Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny emphasized that Western nations must “consistently raise the question of human rights, floggings, disappearances, executions, and the denial of the rights that we take for granted.”
Mrs. Rajavi indicated in her third speech that, at a minimum, there are some venues that must be recognized as inappropriate for such discussion. “The United Nations must not allow Raisi to participate in the next session of the General Assembly. This would be an unforgivable insult to the peoples of all countries who send their representatives to the United Nations.”