ISJ Panel Discusses Political Implications of Ebrahim Raisi’s Death in Iran and Beyond

Members of the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ) along with former Colombian Senator Ingrid Betancourt speak at a conference in Brussels on January 10, 2023

On Thursday, May 24, the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ) convened an online panel to discuss the ramifications of the death of Ebrahim Raisi, the president of the clerical regime ruling Iran.

Hosting the program, Struan Stevenson, former Member of the European Parliament and President of the EP Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014), provided a detailed account of Raisi’s ruthless history and the potential consequences for the Iranian regime.

Who was Raisi? He was dubbed the Butcher of Tehran,” Stevenson began, outlining Raisi’s early career trajectory. With minimal formal education, Raisi left school at 15 to join a seminary, quickly rising to become a deputy prosecutor by the age of 19. At 20, he was appointed deputy prosecutor in Tehran and soon became one of four members of the “Death Commission,” tasked by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to execute thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

“In the second half of 1988, Ebrahim Raisi was the key executioner who supervised many of the tens of thousands of hangings,” Stevenson explained, noting that the victims were mostly members or supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization (PMOI/MEK), the primary democratic opposition to the regime. Raisi infamously boasted about these executions, claiming they were necessary to protect the clerical regime.

Stevenson criticized Raisi’s rise to the presidency, which he described as the result of a “sham election” with an extremely low voter turnout. He highlighted that the legitimacy of the regime is further eroded by the recent parliamentary elections, where participation plummeted to less than 6%.

“Now we are placed in the position of who is going to succeed Raisi,” Stevenson stated, emphasizing the regime’s instability with the ailing 85-year-old Supreme Leader Khamenei at the helm. “The current regime has absolutely no legitimacy.”

Stevenson called for Western support for the Iranian people, who have been oppressed for generations. “The future of Iran could really thrive, but first of all, the West has to change its policy, back the people of Iran,” he asserted. He clarified that Iranians are not asking for military intervention but for moral support in their struggle for freedom.

“They have the right to overthrow this oppressive regime, and the death of Raisi could be the very trigger that means the regime has reached its tipping point,” Stevenson concluded, urging a reassessment of Western engagement with Iran to support the aspirations of its 85 million citizens.

Prof. Alejo Vidal Quadras, former Vice President of the European Parliament and ISJ co-founder, characterized Raisi’s death as a significant political event with far-reaching implications for the Iranian regime.

“The death of Ebrahim Raisi, the so-called butcher of Tehran, is a major event, politically a major event,” said Prof. Vidal Quadras. He noted that Raisi’s death, along with the death of the foreign minister, would disturb the regime’s political balance and weaken it substantially.

Prof. Vidal Quadras did not hide his disdain for Raisi, describing him as a “criminal against humanity” and “a real monster in moral terms.” He expressed no regret over Raisi’s death, citing the regime’s long history of violence against both Iranian dissidents and, more recently, Western political figures.

In response to public expressions of condolence from Western leaders, Prof. Vidal Quadras announced his intention to propose that the ISJ send a letter of protest to Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and other Western political leaders. “This is a shame. I’m not going to say they should manifest their joy, but at least a prudent silence, because Raisi was the worst species of criminal. So, why condolences? It’s really a sign of submission to this regime that is a shame.”

When questioned by a reporter about the apparent large turnout at Raisi’s funeral, Prof. Vidal Quadras dismissed it as orchestrated by the regime. “The regime has mobilized the Revolutionary Guards and the families of the IRGC and the members of this sham parliament to be in the funeral,” he explained.

He pointed to widespread expressions of joy among millions of Iranians, both within the country and abroad, as evidence of the regime’s lack of genuine support. “90% of the Iranian people, not only do they not regret the death of Raisi, but they are extremely happy,” Prof. Vidal Quadras asserted. He described the mourning at Raisi’s funeral as “theater by the regime.”

The former EU Parliament Vice President argued that the regime’s survival hinges on repression, terror, and corruption, bolstered by the passive stance of Western governments. He called for a change in Western policy, advocating for the withdrawal of embassies from Tehran, closure of Iranian embassies in Europe and the U.S., increased sanctions, and support for Iranian Resistance efforts. “If the West would change their policy in relation to the regime… the regime could not resist the combination of these two pressures from inside and from outside,” he concluded.

Paolo Casaca, a former Member of the European Parliament and founder and executive director of the South Asia Democratic Forum, joined the discussion, strongly criticizing world leaders who expressed condolences for Raisi.

“It has been really outrageous that instead of sending condolences to the victims, a lot of world leaders have been expressing condolences to the butcher,” Casaca stated, highlighting European Council President Charles Michel as a key example. Casaca emphasized that these expressions of sympathy do not represent the views of Europeans. “Charles Michel and Mr. Borrell’s words do not represent me, do not represent Europeans; they represent themselves and their policies.”

The former MEP also criticized the perceived hypocrisy of these leaders, pointing out their silence on assassination attempts, including one on Prof. Vidal Quadras. He urged the public to see through the regime’s propaganda surrounding Iran’s so-called elections. “It is absolutely absurd to say that there is any sort of democracy in Iran,” he asserted, explaining that the Guardian Council, appointed by the Supreme Leader, controls who can run for office. Casaca noted that even former President Hassan Rouhani was barred from candidacy, demonstrating the regime’s grip on power.

The Portuguese politician called for international support for the Iranian people’s struggle for self-determination. “Those who believe in principles, human rights, and democracy must stand with the Iranian people, not with their oppressors,” he said. He warned that the Iranian regime continues to exploit situations and promote its expansionist agenda, posing a threat to global peace. “We have to help the Iranian people. They do not need us to take their place, but we should not side with the butchers. We should side with the victims of this regime.”

Responding to a reporter’s question about the circumstances of Raisi’s helicopter crash, Casaca expressed disbelief over the apparent negligence. “How could you send a helicopter to a region with known poor meteorological conditions? Whoever has a mobile knows about that. They could not ignore it,” he said. He criticized the decision to use an old helicopter without a transponder, suggesting incompetence was the most likely cause. “They are not able to even fly their own president. To send him in an aircraft that was over 40 years old and claim there were no replacement parts due to sanctions is sheer incompetence.”

Shahin Ghobadi, spokesperson for the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) and member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran’s (NCRI) Foreign Affairs Committee emphasized the significance of Raisi’s death, describing it as a “monumental and irreparable strategic blow to the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.”

He stated, “This will trigger a series of repercussions and crises within the regime, and also spur the rebellious youth into action.”

Ghobadi recounted Raisi’s notorious past, highlighting his role in the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were members of the PMOI. “Raisi’s track record can be summarized in three words: suppression, killing, massacring Iranian people,” he said.

Discussing the potential impact on Iran’s future, Ghobadi explained, “There have been four major nationwide uprisings in Iran since 2018, each more inclusive and pervasive, manifesting the desire to overthrow the regime entirely.” He added that Raisi’s death would make it difficult for Khamenei to find a replacement capable of maintaining the same level of repression.

Ghobadi outlined Khamenei’s stark choices in response to the growing social discontent: retreat, which would likely lead to the regime’s collapse, or intensify repression, terrorism, and efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. “From all indications, Khamenei will choose the latter, further pitting the regime against both the Iranian people and the international community,” Ghobadi warned.

Responding to questions about the role of Resistance Units in potentially overthrowing the regime, Ghobadi confidently stated, “The short answer is definitely yes.” He noted that regime officials themselves have expressed anxiety about the inevitability of another, stronger uprising. “This is not a question of if; it’s a question of when.”

Regarding the legitimacy of upcoming elections, Ghobadi dismissed them as a farce. “Despite all the rigging and multiplying the number of participants, it has become too conspicuous to hide that the overwhelming majority of the people have rejected the system,” he asserted. He cited low voter turnout in recent parliamentary elections as evidence of widespread disenchantment with the regime.

The ISJ panel’s discussion underscored the urgent need for international support for the Iranian people’s quest for freedom and democracy. “We must stand with the Iranian people, not with their oppressors,” Ghobadi concluded.

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