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Iran: The EU Must Apply Magnitsky Act For Ebrahim Raisi’s Role In The 1988 Massacre

Raisi, Butcher of 1988 Massacre in Iran

On Monday, three death sentences were carried out in one prison facility in Iran. Over the previous ten days, at least 15 other individuals were hanged in different prisons, thereby establishing a pace of executions that is sure to continue if not accelerate following this week’s inauguration of the regime’s president Ebrahim Raisi.
The new president previously served from March 2019 onward as head of the Iranian regime’s judiciary. In that role, he oversaw a notable expansion in usage of the death penalty by a government that was already notorious for having the world’s highest annual rate of executions per capita. Among other things, the judiciary under Raisi’s leadership carried out its first execution in years for a person accused only of drinking alcohol. Following a popular uprising in November 2019, it also undertook a campaign of systematic, months-long torture, following initial clashes in which roughly 1,500 peaceful protesters were killed.
Through this crackdown, Raisi very much compounded the legacy he had established for himself in 1988 when he eagerly took on a leading role in the massacre of political prisoners which resulted from a fatwa by the regime’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini. That religious edict took particular aim at the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and stated that membership in a group that opposed the theocratic dictatorship was evidence of “enmity against God,” for which a person should be executed without mercy.

Iran: A Fatwa Which Took the Life of 30,000 Political Prisoners in 1988 Massacre

In addition to embracing that sentiment at the time, Raisi has continued to defend it in recent years, even as it has become increasingly clear that he and other members of the country’s “death commissions” had implemented over 30,000 death sentences in just three months. In many cases, those sentences resulted from interrogation sessions that lasted just two minutes. Most of the victims were political prisoners who had already served the prison sentences imposed prior to the fatwa.
This sort of contempt for the Iranian regime’s own laws has been a recurring feature of the regime’s efforts to crack down on dissent ever since. During Raisi’s tenure as judiciary chief, the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei unilaterally and arbitrarily expanded the authority of Deputy Judiciary Chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, vesting him with the power to impose capital sentences alongside his superior official. There is little doubt that this helped to accelerate the pace of executions over the past two years, as well as prepping Ejei to step into the role of Iran’s top hanging judge once he was promoted to replace Raisi.

From right Ebrahim Raisi, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei and Hossein Ali Nayeri

Having served as the judiciary’s representative to the Intelligence Ministry between 1985 and 1988, Ejei also had a role in the massacre of political prisoners, as well as in setting the stage for long-term crackdowns on dissent. In subsequent years, he helped to orchestrate the assassinations of Iranian intellectuals and dissidents known as the “chain murders.” In 2009, both he and Raisi promoted the violent suppression of the 2009 protests, and Ejei came under sanctions the following year for his role.


As it stands, both Ejei and Raisi are subject to sanctions for different human rights abuses, but their pending leadership of the Iranian government and law enforcement makes it clear that the existing measures are nowhere near sufficient to prevent such abuses from recurring. At a minimum, the death sentence will continue to be used as a form of disproportionate punishment and violent intimidation of dissenters. And with more and more of those dissenters taking part in large-scale public demonstrations like the ones that recently grew out of water shortage protests in Khuzestan Province, it stands to reason that Raisi and Ejei will also look to the 2019 crackdown and possibly the 1988 massacre as guides for how to handle growing unrest.
The international community must take steps to prevent this. Toward that end, it must start at the beginning, namely the 1988 massacre and the early careers of leading Iranian officials. For years, critics of the Iranian regime have been calling out for a formal, international investigation into that massacre, which might result in the filing of charges against leading participants at the International Criminal Court.
Raisi’s “election” and Ejei’s subsequent promotion make such an investigation more imperative than ever, but sadly that has not been the EU’s policy so far. On the contrary, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is sending his deputy, Enrique Mora, to attend Raisi’s inauguration, thereby implicitly endorsing it.
This is an insult to the Iranian people, and as the NCRI’s statement said, “Legitimizing the presidency of someone with a long record of genocide and crimes against humanity is a mockery of democracy and the universal principles of human rights that underpin the emergence of the European Union and for which tens of millions died in Europe in the twentieth century.”
And, as the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ) tweeted, “Instead of sending Enrique Mora to Iran to attend the inauguration of Riasi, EU leaders must apply Magnitsky Act for his role in the 1988 massacre. Participation in this damn ceremony will encourage Raisi to ask for more in the nuclear deal. It will not soften a mass murderer.”