The National Council of Resistance of Iran held a press briefing on Tuesday with the aim of highlighting some of the main rationales for an emerging boycott of the Islamic Republic’s June 18 presidential election. The event took place three days after the seven candidates in that election participated in their first televised debate, which was designed to focus on economic issues to the exclusion of other topics that are clearly of interest to the Iranian people.
By avoiding reference to other areas of domestic policy, the debate largely avoided bringing further attention to a record of domestic human rights abuses that is shared by most of the seven. The NCRI’s press conference compensated for that omission by presenting an international audience of online viewers with details of these abuses and their implications for the electoral boycott. The event, titled, “Criminal Record of Candidates in Mullahs’ Sham Election,” featured eyewitness testimony from the surviving victims and the families of victims of past crimes carried out in whole or in part by the prospective successors to outgoing President Hassan Rouhani.
1) Online Press Briefing: Criminal Record Of Candidates In Mullahs’ Sham Election Tuesday, June 8, 2021, 1400 CEST | 8:00 am EDT #BoycottIranShamElections #رئیسی_جلاد۶۷#MyVoteRegimeChangehttps://t.co/5BBnXVeJDb
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) June 8, 2021
The conference naturally focused most of its attention on the current head of the Iranian judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, who is the well-recognized favorite of the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and is therefore widely regarded as a shoo-in for the presidency. Nearly 600 individuals registered with Iran’s Interior Ministry last month, but only Raisi and six others were ultimately approved to appear on the ballot by the Guardian Council, which is tasked with vetting candidates for adherence to the will of the supreme leader.
Between June and September of 1988, over 30,000 political prisoners were systematically executed and buried in secret mass graves as part of an effort to stamp out organized dissent, especially from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). As Tehran’s deputy public prosecutor at the time, Raisi was one of five individuals assigned to the capital city’s “death commission,” which assumed responsibility for the majority of the killings.
No one has ever been held accountable for the 1988 massacre, and Raisi’s pending election – or rather an appointment – to the presidency is indicative of an ongoing trend of the massacre’s perpetrators being rewarded for their role in killing members of the MEK.
In 2016, when new information about that massacre reached the Iranian public in the form of a leaked audio recording, then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi defended the incident on state television by saying that the killings represented “God’s command.” Raisi himself has offered similar defenses, praising the fatwa that set the stage for the massacre and stating that no regime official should question the word of the regime’s late founder Ruhollah Khomeini, who called for “no mercy” in dealing with the MEK.
Despite the regime’s past efforts to destroy it, the MEK now stands at the head of the NCRI coalition. That very outcome is what NCRI activists envision as the long-term consequence of an effective electoral boycott. Mohammad Mohaddessin, the chairman of the coalition’s Foreign Affairs Committee, stated last month that “the looming nationwide uprising waiting in the wings… will be far more intense and widespread than in previous years.”
With this remark, he was referring to three nationwide uprisings that took place between January 2018 and January 2020, which served as a showcase not only for public rejection of the theocratic system but also for Raisi’s persistent commitment to brutal repression as a means of preserving the regime’s rule. Iran’s likely next president took over the judiciary in March 2019, just months ahead of the second uprising in November 2019. Whereas the first uprising ended after about a month with dozens of Iranians having been either fatally shot or tortured to death, the second uprising was met with mass shootings that killed 1,500 people in a matter of days, followed by at least 12,000 arrests and months of systematic torture, much of which was later detailed in a report by Amnesty International.
The protracted crackdown on dissent was largely directed by the judiciary head, and Tuesday’s press conference allowed the NCRI to highlight the human cost of Raisi’s successive promotion to higher and higher positions within the clerical regime. The event featured statements from the relatives of individuals who were killed during the 2019 crackdown, as well as from people directly affected by the 1988 massacre. But these statements were also placed in the clear context of a larger pattern of repression that has affected virtually every Iranian citizen and expatriate in one way or another and has implicated all high-ranking officials, including the presidential candidates.
In light of Raisi being poised for near-certain victory on June 18, the NCRI has been working to make his role in the 1988 “death commission” a leading talking point and a driving force behind the electoral boycott. At the same time, the coalition has emphasized that none of the alternative candidates represents a better option, much less a future of genuine reform or democratic governance.
This broader message has been promoted by MEK “Resistance Units” ahead of virtually every Iranian national election, and during the February 2020 parliamentary election is proved extraordinarily successful, yielding the lowest level of voter turnout in the 40-year history of the Iranian regime. Various sources, including some Iranian officials and state media outlets, anticipate that the June 18 election will break that record and set the stage for the “more intense and widespread” uprising that Mohaddessin predicted last month.
These predictions stem from the fact that many activists and protest groups that are otherwise unaffiliated with the NCRI have embraced its message of “voting for regime change” through a coordinated boycott. A diverse array of public demonstrations have come to feature slogans such as “we have seen no justice; we will not vote anymore.” And while each group may have a different sense of the particular form of justice they wish to see, their chants certainly evoke NCRI’s condemnation of a system that has repeatedly rewarded Raisi and every other major participant in the 1988 massacre, making it clear in the process that the brutal repression is the only way forward under the current system.