The Iranian regime succeeded in hand-picking Ebrahim Raisi to be the next president. This is a significant blow to the people of Iran, who have been struggling for four decades to establish a democratic system of governance that ensures the rule of law, the freedoms of speech, press and assembly, and respect for human rights in the country.
Raisi is no regular politician. He is known as “The Butcher” for his role on the “Death Commission” in the 1980s. Many Iranian people truly despise him for his bloody history.
After his orchestrated victory in last month’s election, Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard issued an important statement regarding his background. She 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. In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities, amounting to ongoing crimes against humanity.”
The president-elect’s crimes against humanity and his role in the massacre of tens of thousands of political prisoners should not be disregarded or underestimated. In a matter of about two months, nearly 30,000 political prisoners, some of whom participated in the 1979 revolution that led to the clergy’s rise to power, were executed in a hasty manner.
In one of the largest mass purges of dissidents in history, some political prisoners were lined up before a firing squad and others were executed by hanging. There were no trials and many did not know they were going to be killed until a few minutes before their execution. Those who died were buried in mass graves without their families being informed of their fate or their whereabouts.
This event shocked the nation and many families still do not know where their loved ones are buried. Girls, pregnant women and children were among those who were executed. Women were reportedly raped in front of their husbands or brothers. The late Hussein-Ali Montazeri — one of the founding fathers of the regime, as well as a human rights activist, a theologian and the designated successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini until the very last moments of Khomeini’s life — wrote in his memoir: “Many of those who were being arrested… were girls and they were executing them on charges of waging war on God. I told the judiciary officials and Evin officials and others… that they must not execute girls. I told judges not to write death sentences for girls. This is what I said. But they perverted my words and quoted me as saying: ‘Don’t execute girls. First marry them for one night and then execute them.’”
What is also shocking is that Raisi is proud of his role in the mass executions. When asked about it, he said he should actually be applauded for his actions. “Everything I’ve done in my time of holding office has been to defend human rights. If a legal expert, a judge or a prosecutor has defended the rights of people and the security of the society, he must be lauded and encouraged for preserving the security of people against assaults and threats,” he said. Another member of the so-called Death Commission, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, echoed that message when he boasted that he was proud to “carry out God’s will” and claimed he had not lost sleep over what he did.
Raisi is an extremely dangerous man. It is also worth noting that he was the head of Iran’s judiciary when about 1,500 people, including teenagers and hundreds of women, were killed and many more arrested, imprisoned and tortured during the 2019 protests.
It is incumbent on the UN and the West to open a formal investigation into Raisi’s actions and bring him to justice.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.
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