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UN Delegates Should Listen to Iranians, not Tehran’s Illegitimate President 

Iran Freedom Summit-WashingtonPost

Time is running out to take action in accordance with recommendations from countless Iranian expatriates and supporters of Iran’s pro-democracy Resistance movement concerning the Iranian regime’s president, Ebrahim Raisi’s prospective attendance at the opening of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly. 

A recent statement reiterating those recommendations was signed by 500 Iranian academics, scientists, and other professionals. The message was sent to the White House on Thursday and urged President Biden to deny entry visas for Raisi and his would-be accompanying delegation. 

It went on to add that such a move is plainly justified by Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which gives the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State legal authority to bar entry to any foreign national who “has committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the act of torture… or under color of law of any foreign nation, any extrajudicial killing.” 

Section 212 also mentions association with terrorist organizations as grounds for barring entry, as well as the potential for such entry to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” Raisi plainly fits all of these criteria. 

Concerning torture and extrajudicial killing, Raisi is not only credibly implicated in both but is among the worst known violators of human rights anywhere in the world who is still serving in government, having faced no meaningful consequences for his crimes. 

In 1988, Raisi was one of four officials to serve on the Tehran “death commission,” which oversaw mass executions in Evin and Gohardasht Prisons that summer. Similar death commissions were convened around the same time in various other localities, but the judges in the capital city were responsible for the single greatest share of over 30,000 hangings and deaths by firing squad that comprised the 1988 genocide. 

Naturally, The regime denies the scale of the killing. But that denial plainly lacks credibility in light of the fact that Iranian authorities have routinely made efforts to pave over and build upon the suspected sites of secret mass graves wherein many of the massacre’s victims were buried. 

This phenomenon was highlighted in a 2020 letter to the regime’s officials signed by several UN human rights experts. The letter called upon the regime to adopt a policy of transparency regarding this unresolved crime against humanity, which is considered to be still ongoing as long as the victims’ resting places remain unknown, with their killers still living freely and occupying positions of power. 

The UN experts’ letter indicated that if Tehran did not come clear, the responsibility for an inquiry into the killings would fall to the international community. The letter also stated that the UN and its relevant institutions had failed to act upon initial reports of the killings and that this had a “devastating impact” not only on those immediately impacted by the massacre but also on the general situation of human rights in Iran. 

This is to say that historic inaction has reinforced a sense of impunity within the Iranian regime, especially where matters of human rights are concerned. In recent years, there has perhaps been no greater symbol of that impunity than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s selection, in 2021, of Ebrahim Raisi as the next president of the clerical regime. 

After Khamenei’s choice was confirmed via a sham election which the vast majority of the Iranian population boycotted, the director general of Amnesty International lamented that it was a “grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme,” noting also that instead of ascending to the presidency, Raisi should have been “investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance, and torture.” 

Such an investigation could still take place, and of course, Iranian activists have been actively calling for one – especially those affiliated with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, whose members made up about 90 percent of the victims of the 1988 massacre 

Addressing the UN General Assembly would arguably provide Raisi with the greatest claim to legitimacy so far, erasing some small part of the shadow cast over his presidency by the mass electoral boycott and the countless ensuing protests that have featured chants of “death to Raisi” alongside “death to the dictator [Khamenei]”.  By contrast, denying him a visa would further undermine his existing claims to legitimacy while sending a vital message of support to Iranian activists who have made significant strides toward regime change in recent years, all on their own. 

As Sima Yazdani, one of the more than 500 Iranian professionals who appealed to the Biden administration this week, said: “Our letter echoes the voices of Iran’s people who have waged uprisings since 2017.” Those voices must be heard. And Raisi’s must not.