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Iran Protests 2022: Iranian People Hold the Regime Accountable; How Int’l Community Respond? 

Graffiti on the wall says “Death to Khamenei”, a street in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi, Northeastern Iran- September 22, 2022

As protests over the brutal murder of a young woman at the hands of Iran’s morality police continued for a sixth consecutive day on Wednesday, the accompanying global criticism cast a shadow over the regime’s president, Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  

In the United States, the Organization of Iranian-American Communities held a rally in a park across from the UN Headquarters. On Tuesday, the OIAC displayed photographs of approximately 2,000 victims of Iran’s 1988 massacre of political prisoners, in which Raisi played a leading role as a member of the Tehran “death commission”. Nationwide, that massacre is believed to have claimed 30,000 lives. 

The Iranian opposition held a larger rally in Dag Hammarskjold Park on Wednesday, with thousands of participants demanding Raisi’s prosecution for crimes against humanity. In advance of Raisi’s arrival, 16 Iranian expatriates filed a civil lawsuit in the Southern District of New York in an effort to facilitate legal accountability and highlight evidence that might later be used in a criminal trial. 

To date, no one has ever been held accountable for the 1988 massacre, with the sole exception of Hamid Noury, a former Iranian prison official and comparatively low-level participant in the death commission’s process. Noury was arrested by Swedish authorities in 2019, based on the principle of “universal jurisdiction” over outstanding violations of international law. He was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison. 

Raisi’s selection by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was widely recognized as a renewed endorsement of the principles behind the 1988 massacre, and thus as an implicit directive for expanded political repression in the wake of several recent, nationwide uprisings against the theocratic system. 

The first of those uprisings began in December 2017. Now, in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death, demonstrations have re-emerged on a large scale. The anti-regime slogans were a defining feature of the initial anti-government uprising in December 2017 and January 2018, and it has remained in mainstream circulation ever since, providing a similar definition to later uprisings, including that of November 2019, which encompassed nearly 200 cities and towns and led to over 1,500 peaceful protesters being shot dead by security forces. Those killings took place at a time when Ebrahim Raisi was head of the regime’s judiciary, and so they stood alongside the 1988 massacre in arguments for why he should have been denied a visa for travel to the US and thus barred from the UN General Assembly. 

Mahsa Amini’s killing is another reason why Raisi should be prosecuted by UN member states. A picture of Ms. Amini was reportedly included among the other photographs in Dag Hammarskjold Park on Tuesday, and Fox News quoted one participant in the accompanying rally as saying that because of her death, “People are demonstrating against the government as we speak … saying ‘Death to Raisi.’ We are just echoing Iranian people’s desires…” 

Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, was arrested on September 13. She fell into a coma soon after being taken to be “convinced and educated,” and three days later, she lost her life.  

Enforcement of mandatory hijab and associated standards of appearance and behavior has been more vigorously enforced in recent months, with relevant directives coming directly from the office of Raisi. This has led to the proliferation of videos and eyewitness reports on social media showing aggressive and violent behavior by the morality police, or “Guardian Patrols”. Amini’s case is the subject of just such reports, as multiple women were evidently in the same van that drove her to the detention facility, and they later reached out to the Amini family to confirm that she was physically assaulted. 

At the same time, authorities repeatedly obstructed efforts to obtain objective information about the circumstances surrounding her death. 

Her father Amjad reported being kept apart from Mahsa’s body and ultimately being permitted to view it only when it was almost entirely covered to hide bruises. However, post-mortem photographs appeared to show discoloration around the ear, which is consistent with a strong blow to the head. The attempted concealment of Mahsa Amini’s body proceeded with authorities instructing the family to have her buried at night, though they finally assented to a funeral at 8 AM. 

Apart from the potential visibility of marks on her body, authorities were also concerned about the potential for her funeral to become the starting point for anti-regime protests. Indeed, the regime has attempted to place restrictions on the funerals of a number of high-profile decedents, as well as after-the-fact memorial services.  

The following protests ever since Mahsa’s funeral proved the regime’s concerns to be well-founded. Protests over Mahsa’s murder and underlying repression spread to dozen of cities and reports indicate a few other protesters have lost their lives.  

Tehran denied responsibility, claiming that at least one of the deceased individuals had been killed by a weapon not used by any branch of Iran’s armed forces. This is notably the same explanation that the regime gave when denying all responsibility for most of the publicly-recorded deaths associated with the November 2019 uprising.  

The ongoing protests in Iran indicate a restive society that many Iranian state media had warned about an explosion. Iranians hold the regime and its officials accountable for four decades of systematic crimes. The ball now is the court of the international community. Would they side with the Iranian people, or continue to ignore the reality that Iran is on the verge of a revolution?