Khuzestan in southwest Iran has been the site of large-scale unrest since July 15. In the intervening two weeks, the protest has also spread to a number of other regions, including Tehran, Tabriz, Bushehr, and Isfahan. This growth trend will continue, even in the face of violent crackdowns by the regime officials. Those crackdowns will intensify in the days and weeks to come, especially following the August 3 inauguration of the regime’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi.
Raisi was “selected” on June 18, but the vast majority of the Iranian population boycotted the political process, recognizing that regime authorities had already cleared the way for his victory after the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made it clear that he had settled on Raisi as his choice to succeed the outgoing regime’s President Hassan Rouhani. By all accounts, that choice was due to Raisi’s long history of supporting and participating in the repression of dissent, particularly that which is associated with the organized opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
In the summer of 1988, the MEK was the prime target in a campaign of mass executions that claimed over 30,000 lives. When that campaign began, Raisi was the deputy public prosecutor in Tehran, and he soon became one of the key figures on the regime’s principal “death commission.” In that capacity, he interrogated political prisoners in Evin Prison and later in facilities across the country in order to determine which of them still harbored sympathy for the MEK or resentment against the clerical regime. All those who refused to demonstrate abject submission to the ruling theocracy were sentenced to be executed by hanging or by firing squad.
For years after the 1988 massacre, Raisi compounded his legacy as a hanging judge and an advocate for all forms of corporal punishment.
Despite the complete lack of popular support, Khamenei handed Raisi control over the Iranian judiciary in 2019. This served to set the stage for Raisi to revive his presidential campaign in an entirely non-competitive field.
Raisi’s control over the judiciary advanced the regime’s interests over those of the people, and even if it helped to spark nationwide revolt within months of his appointment, it also contributed to the intensity of the regime’s crackdown and forced the protest movement back underground for several weeks. Whereas a previous uprising in January 2018 resulted in roughly 60 deaths over the course of about a month, the November 2019 uprising was met with mass shootings almost immediately, which killed over 1,500 people in a matter of days.
Furthermore, at least 12,000 people were arrested, and Raisi’s judiciary promptly began a torture and extended interrogation campaign, which lasted for months. Amnesty International reported on that crackdown in a report titled Trampling Humanity, and when Iranian authorities began cracking down on the recent Khuzestan protests, the human rights organization issued a statement affirming that it saw “chilling echoes of November 2019, when security forces unlawfully killed hundreds of protesters and bystanders but were never held to account.”
The statement emphasized the need to end the “impunity” that Tehran has long enjoyed in the absence of serious international measures to punish leading officials or institutions for such human rights abuses. Previously, Amnesty issued a statement reacting to Iran’s sham election in which it said, “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance, and torture is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”
That impunity will be further reinforced by Raisi’s inauguration, leading to a further increase in repression of the ongoing protests in Khuzestan and surrounding areas. However, there does not appear to be much question about whether those protests will still be going on after Raisi takes office. So far, the activist community has weathered the impact of at least a dozen shooting deaths and perhaps many more. The full extent of the crackdown remains to be determined, in part because Tehran has cut off the internet in order to slow the spread of information.
On July 10, NCRI President-elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi delivered a speech to the first session of the Free Iran World Summit and said, “In the new era, the hostility and enmity between the Iranian regime and society will intensify more than ever before.”
First day of Free #Iran World Summit 10 July 2021
The clerical regime faces the impasse of impending overthrow; the democratic alternative marches on towards victory. #FreeIran2021 pic.twitter.com/ZGs1UrC2gw
— Maryam Rajavi (@Maryam_Rajavi) July 11, 2021
Mrs. Rajavi also spoke of Raisi’s pending inauguration as a “litmus test” for Western commitment to principles of universal human rights and popular sovereignty throughout the world. Iran’s current unrest is arguably a preview of that test.
The Khuzestan protests were plainly sparked by water shortages coinciding with rising summer temperatures, but they specifically called attention to the regime’s indifference to industrial and ecological policies that contributed to those shortages. This, in turn, speaks to the widespread recognition of Tehran’s overall indifference and the failure of any leading authority offering a meaningful response to the people’s grievances.
Although Khamenei recently delivered a speech that superficially conveyed sympathy to the protesters, he also criticized their movement for inviting exploitation by “enemies” and brushed aside their complaints as something that would be addressed under the next presidential administration. It is not lost on the Iranian people that that administration is being installed for the express purpose of silencing dissent, not listening to it. The international community should be every bit as aware of this situation and should be taking measures right this moment to discourage Tehran from stepping up its repression even further after August 5.
The Free Iran World Summit offered concrete recommendations for how to accomplish this. Many speakers at that three-day event, including policymakers from various political parties in the US, Britain, and Europe, encouraged Western governments to press for a formal commission of inquiry at the United Nations, focusing on Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacre and broadening out to include other officials and other crimes. Such an inquiry would go a long way toward demonstrating to the Iranian regime that its forthcoming era marks the end of its era of impunity and that if the current Khuzestan protests grow into another uprising, the Iranian people will have the world’s support this time.