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Experts urge end to culture of impunity in Iran, accountability for regime leaders, including Raisi

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In an online conference held on 24 June by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), human rights experts and jurists discussed the implications of Ebrahim Raisi as the Iranian regime’s president. They also weighed in on the role that the international community must play to end Tehran's culture of impunity for criminals and to hold the regime’s authorities to account for their past and ongoing crimes, writes Shahin Gobadi.

The panelists included former UN appeal judge and President of the War Crimes Court in Sierra Leone Geoffrey Robertson, President Emeritus of the Law Society of England and Wales Nicholas Fluck, former US national security official Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., former Chief of the UN Human Rights Office in Iraq Tahar Boumedra, and a survivor of the 1988 massacre Reza Fallahi.

The outcome of the 18 June sham presidential election in Iran was the selection of Raisi as the regime’s next president. The international community reacted with outrage, mostly due to Raisi’s direct role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners across the country. Raisi was a member of the four-man 'Death Committee' responsible for the heinous mass murder. The overwhelming majority of the victims were supporters of the principal opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

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The regime’s elections charade also faced an unprecedented and massive nationwide boycott by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people. Through their resounding boycott, the Iranian people made it clear that they seek nothing less than regime change in Iran at their own hands.

Ali Safavi, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the NCRI, and the moderator of the Thursday event, said the Iranian people have dubbed Raisi "the henchman of the 1988 massacre."

The ascendance to the presidency of one of the worst criminals in modern history, he added, was a decision made by the mullahs' Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei out of utter desperation and because he faces a society on the verge of explosion, with more popular uprisings looming on the horizon.

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Safavi also rejected the myth of moderation in Tehran and added: "Raisi’s ascension also put an end to the fallacious ‘moderate vs hardliner’ narrative, which the Iranian people had debunked in their chants of ‘Reformer, hardliner, the game is now over’ during the four nationwide uprisings since 2017."

Prominent international human rights expert and jurist Geoffrey Robertson said, "We now have an international criminal as president of the state of Iran. ... What I have evidence of is that Raisi, with two other colleagues, on numerous occasions sent people to their deaths without a proper or indeed any trial process. And that involves him in a crime against humanity."

He said Raisi's presidency "focuses attention on this barbaric moment in world history that has been overlooked," calling the 1988 massacre as "indeed one of the greatest crimes against humanity, certainly the greatest committed against prisoners since the Second World War."

With respect to the role of the United Nations, Mr. Robertson said: "The United Nations has a bad conscience over this. At the time Amnesty International alerted about the massacre throughout Iran, but the UN turned a blind eye on the matter."

"The UN has a duty to set up a proper inquiry into these barbaric doings of 1988."

Mr. Robertson also raised the potential for the application of the Magnitsky sanctions in Europe vis-a-vis Raisi and other officials complicit in the 1988 massacre. Responding to questions about Raisi's immunity from trial as a head of state, Mr. Robertson said that "a crime against humanity and the need to end impunity by punishing it trumps any immunity."

Nick Fluck, President Emeritus of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: "Raisi said on record that he was proud of his role in the massacre of political prisoners. This should serve as an important wakeup call for all of us. We cannot sit silent on the sidelines."

He added: "It appears that the death committee was simply performing a clean up operation [in 1988] to remove people who were vociferous against the regime."

Mr. Fluck also said: "I applaud the efforts and the diligence and the persuasiveness of the NCRI" with respect to calling for investigations into the 1988 massacre.

Speaking from Washington, D.C., Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr., said, "The West has failed to face the reality. The founder of the regime, Ayatollah Khomeini, and his successor, the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are both gross violators of human rights. They are responsible for directing major acts of international terrorism on foreign soil."

Referring to the fact that there are no differences between so-called "moderates" and "hardliners" in the regime, Amb. Bloomfield said, "Since 2017, under the so-called moderate president Rouhani, Raisi has been putting people in jail. Raisi’s role has continued since the 1988 massacre right before our eyes."

Reminding of the observation that "human rights are a central focus of President Biden's message to the world," Amb. Bloomfield recommended: "The United States and others must pursue human rights cases not only against Raisi but against everyone in the regime."

"There should also be a counter intelligence investigation in America to make sure that people who are speaking on behalf of Iran [regime] are identified with their connection with the regime," he concluded.

A survivor of the 1988 massacre also spoke at the event. Reza Fallahi, who miraculously escaped the killings and now resides in Britain, recounted a horrifying personal ordeal beginning with his September 1981 arrest for supporting the MEK. He reminded that the planning for the massacre began "in late 1987 and early 1988".

He added with regards to Raisi's role: "Ebrahim Raisi displayed particular hostility towards myself and my cellmates. ... They asked about our affiliation with any political organization, if we believe in the Islamic Republic, and if we are willing to repent, and so on. ... Overall, only 12 people survived in our ward."

He added, "To stop the regime from committing another massacre, the international community, in particular the United Nations, must end the culture of impunity, launch an independent investigation into the massacre, and bring people like Raisi to account."

Fallahi also announced that families of the victims will file a complaint against Raisi in the UK.

"Will western countries and the United Nations remain silent like they did during the 1988 massacre?" asked the massacre survivor.

Tahar Boumedra, former chief of the UN Human Rights Office in Iraq and Coordinator of the Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI), said: "JVMI is joining its voice with Amnesty International, and we are calling for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his role in past and ongoing crimes against humanity, and for international tribunals to bring him to justice."

"We are not going to wait until immunity is removed from Raisi in order to act. We are going to act, and we are going to put this to the British system."

Boumedra said: "JVMI has documented a large amount of evidence and it will be delivered to concerned authorities," before adding, "We strongly believe that Raisi’s place is not to run a state or be a president. His place is in a detention facility at The Hague," referring to the seat of the International Court of Justice.

Iran

In Iran, hardline executioners and human-rights violators can run for presidency

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The new president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi (pictured), assumed office on the fifth of August, writes Zana Ghorbani, Middle East analyst and researcher specializing in Iranian affairs.

The events leading up to Raisi’s election were some of the most blatant acts of government manipulation in Iran’s history. 

Mere weeks before the polls opened in late June, the regime’s Guardian Council, the regulatory body under the direct control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, swiftly disqualified hundreds of presidential hopefuls including many reformist candidates that had been growing in popularity among the public. 

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Being the regime insider that he is, as well as a close ally of Supreme Leader Khamenei, it was hardly a surprise the government took measures to insure Raisi’s victory. What is slightly more surprising is the extent to which Ebrahim Raisi has participated in nearly every atrocity committed by the Islamic Republic over the past four decades. 

Raisi has been long known, both in Iran and internationally, as a brutal hardliner. Raisi’s career has been essentially wielding the power of Iran’s judiciary in order to facilitate the Ayatollah’s worst possible human rights violations.    

The newly installed president became part and parcel of the Revolutionary government shortly following its inception. After participating in the 1979 coup that overthrew the shah, Raisi, the sion of a prestigious clerical family and learned in Islamist jurisprudence, was appointed the new regimes court system. While still a young man, Raisi held several prominent judicial positions throughout the country. By the late 1980’s Raisi, still a young man, became the assistant prosecutor for the country’s capital Tehran. 

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In those days, the revolutions leader Ruhollah Khomeini and his henchmen were faced with a population still full of shah supporters, secularists, and other political factions opposed to the regime. Thus, the years in the roles of municipal and regional prosecutors offered Raisi ample experience in repressing political dissidents. The challenge of the regime in crushing its opponents reached its peak during the later years of the Iran - Iraq War, a conflict that put tremendous strain on the fledgling Iranian government, and nearly drained the state of all its resources. It was this backdrop that led to the greatest and most well known of Raisi’s human rights crimes, the event that has come to be known as the 1988 Massacre.

In the summer of 1988, Khomeini sent a secret cable to a number of top officials ordering the execution of political prisoners being held throughout the country. Ebrahim Raisi, at this time already the assistant prosecutor for the country's capital Tehran, was appointed to the four man panel that issued the execution orders. According to international human rights groups, Khomeini’s order, executed by Raisi and his colleagues, led to the deaths of thousands of prisoners in a matter of weeks. Some Iranian sources place the total death toll at as many as 30,000.          

But Raisi’s history of brutality didn’t end with the 1988 killings. Indeed, Raisi has had consistent involvement in every major regime crackdown on its citizens in the three decades since.  

After years of occupying prosecutorial posts. Raisi ended up in senior positions in the judiciary branch, eventually landing the job of Chief Justice, the top authority of the entire judicial system. Under Raisi’s leadership, the court system became a regular tool of cruelty and oppression. Almost unimaginable violence was used as a matter of course when interrogating political prisoners. The recent account of Farideh Goudarzi, a former anti-regime activist serves as a chilling example. 

For her political activities, Goudarzi was arrested by regime authorities and taken to northwest Iran’s Hamedan Prison. “I was pregnant at the time of arrest,” relates Goudarzi, “and had a short time left before delivery of my baby. Despite my conditions, they took me to the torture room right after my arrest,” she said. “It was a dark room with a bench in the middle and a variety of electric cables for beating prisoners. There were about seven or eight torturers. One of the people who was present during my torture was Ebrahim Raisi, then chief Prosecutor of Hamedan and one of the members of the Death Committee in the 1988 massacre.” 

In recent years, Raisi has had a hand in crushing the widespread anti-regime activism that have arisen in his country. The 2019 protest movement which saw mass demonstrations across Iran, was met with fierce opposition by the regime. When the protests began, Raisi had just begun his stint as Chief Justice. The uprising was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his methods for political repression. The judiciary gave security forces carte blanche authority to put down demonstrations. Over the course of roughly four months, some 1,500 Iranians were killed while protesting their government, all at the behest of Supreme Leader Khamenei and facilitated by Raisi’s judiciary apparatus. 

The persistent demands of Iranians for justice have at best been ignored. Activists who attempt to hold Iranian officials accountable are to this day persecuted by the regime.  

The U.K. based Amnesty International has recently called for a complete investigation into the crimes of Ebrahim Raisi, stating that the man’s status as president cannot exempt him from justice. With Iran today at the center of international politics, it is crucial the true nature of Iran’s top official is fully recognized for what it is.

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European dignitaries and international law experts describe 1988 massacre in Iran as genocide and a crime against humanity

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In an online conference coinciding with the anniversary of the 1988 massacre in Iran, more than 1,000 political prisoners and witnesses of torture in the Iranian prisons demanded an end to the impunity enjoyed by the regime leaders and to prosecute the supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the President Ebrahim Raisi, and other perpetrators of the massacre.

In 1988, based on a fatwa (religious order) by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini, the clerical regime executed at least 30,000 political prisoners, more than 90% of whom were activists of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI), the principal Iranian opposition movement. They were massacred for their steadfast commitment to MEK’s ideals and the Iranian people’s freedom. The victims were buried in secret mass graves and there has never been an independent UN inquiry.

Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and hundreds of prominent political figures, as well as jurists and leading experts on human rights and international law from around the world, participated in the conference.

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In her address, Rajavi said: The clerical regime wanted to break and defeat every member and supporter of the MEK by torturing, burning, and flogging. It tried all evil, malicious, and inhuman tactics. Finally, in the summer of 1988, MEK members were offered a choice between death or submission coupled with renouncing their loyalty to the MEK….They courageously adhered to their principles: the overthrow of the clerical regime and the establishment of freedom for the people.

Mrs. Rajavi underscored that the appointment of Raisi as president was an open declaration of war on the people of Iran and the PMOI/MEK. Emphasizing that the Call-for-Justice Movement is not a spontaneous phenomenon, she added: For us, the Call-for-Justice movement is synonymous with perseverance, steadfastness, and resistance to overthrow this regime and establish freedom with all our strength. For this reason, denying the massacre, minimizing the number of victims, and erasing their identities is what the regime is seeking because they serve its interests and ultimately help preserve its rule. Concealing the names and destroying the graves of the victims serve the same purpose. How can one seek to destroy the MEK, crush their positions, values, and red lines, eliminate the Resistance’s Leader, and call himself a sympathizer of the martyrs and seek justice for them? This is the ploy of the mullahs' intelligence services and the IRGC to distort and divert the Call-for-Justice Movement and undermine it.

She called on the US and Europe to recognize the 1988 massacre as genocide and crime against humanity. They must not accept Raisi in their countries. They must prosecute and hold him accountable, she added. Rajavi also reinstated her call to the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN special rapporteurs, and international human rights organizations to visit the Iranian regime's prisons and meet with the prisoners there, especially the political prisoners. She added that the dossier of human rights violations in Iran, especially regarding the regime's conduct in prisons, should be submitted to the UN Security Council.

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Participants in the conference that last more than five hours, took part from more than 2,000 locations the world over.

In his remarks, Geoffrey Robertson, First President of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, referring to Khomeini's fatwa calling for the annihilation of the MEK and calling them Mohareb (enemies of God) and used by the regime as the basis of the massacre, he reiterated: “It seems to me that there is very strong evidence that this was a genocide. It applies to killing or torturing a certain group for their religious beliefs. A religious group that did not accept the backward ideology of the Iranian regime… There is no doubt that there is a case for prosecuting [regime President Ebrahim] Raisi and others. There has been a crime committed that engages international responsibility. Something must be done about it as has been done against the perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre.”

Raisi was a member of the “Death Commission” in Tehran and sent thousands of the MEK activists to the gallows.

According to Kumi Naidoo, secretary-general of Amnesty International (2018-2020): “The 1988 massacre was a brutal, bloodthirsty massacre, a genocide. It is moving for me to see the strength and courage of people who have been through so much and seen so much tragedy and endure these atrocities. I'd like to pay tribute to all the MEK prisoners and applaud you… The EU and broader international community must take the lead on this issue. This government, led by Raisi, has even greater culpability on the issue of the 1988 massacre. Governments that behave like this must recognize that behavior is not so much a show of force as an admission of weakness.”

Eric David, an expert on international humanitarian law from Belgium, also confirmed the characterization of genocide and crimes against humanity for the 1988 massacre.

Franco Frattini, foreign minister of Italy (2002–2004 and 2008–2011) and European commissioner for justice, freedom and security (2004–2008) said: "The actions of the new government of Iran are in line with the regime's history. The new foreign minister has served under previous governments. There is no difference between conservatives and reformists. It is the same regime. This is confirmed by the Foreign Minister's closeness to the commander of the Quds Force. He even confirmed that he would continue the path of Qassem Soleimani. Finally, I hope for an independent investigation with no limitation into the 1988 massacre. The credibility of the UN system is at stake. The UN Security Council has a moral duty. The UN owes this moral duty to innocent victims. Let us seek justice. Let us go forward with a serious international investigation."

Guy Verhofstadt, prime minister of Belgium (1999 to 2008) pointed out: “The 1988 massacre targeted an entire generation of young people. It is crucial to know that this was planned in advance. It was planned and rigorously executed with a clear target in mind. It qualifies as genocide. The massacre was never officially investigated by the UN, and the perpetrators were not indicted. They continue to enjoy impunity. Today, the regime is run by the killers of that time.”

Giulio Terzi, foreign minister of Italy (2011 to 2013) said: “Over 90% of those executed in the 1988 massacre were MEK members and supporters. The prisoners chose to stand tall by refusing to renounce their support for the MEK. Many have called for an international investigation into 1988 massacre. EU High Representative Josep Borrell should end his usual approach toward the Iranian regime. He should encourage all UN member states to demand accountability for Iran’s great crime against humanity. Thousands of people are out there who expect a more assertive approach by the international community, especially the EU.”

John Baird, Canada's foreign minister (2011-2015), also addressed the conference and condemned the 1988 massacre. He, too, called for an international investigation into this crime against humanity.

Audronius Ažubalis, minister of foreign affairs of Lithuania (2010 – 2012), underscored: "No one has yet faced justice for this crime against humanity. There is no political will to hold the perpetrators to account. A UN investigation into the 1988 massacre is a must. The European Union has ignored these calls, shown no reaction, and not been prepared to show a reaction. I want to call on the EU to sanction the regime for crimes against humanity. I think Lithuania can take the lead among EU members.”

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Stockholm rally: Iranians call on the UN to investigate the role of Ebrahim Raisi in 1988 massacre in Iran

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Iranians travelled from all parts of Sweden to Stockholm on Monday (23 August) to attend a rally on the 33rd anniversary of the massacre of 30 000 political prisoners in Iran.

The rally was held outside the Swedish Parliament and opposite the Swedish Foreign Ministry, and was followed by a march through central Stockholm commemorating those who were executed in prisons across Iran on the basis of a fatwa by the regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini. More than 90 percent of the victims were members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The rally’s participants honoured the victims by holding pictures of them during an exhibition which also highlighted the involvement of the current President Ebrahim Raisi and the Supreme Leader Khamenei in the extrajudicial executions.  

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They called for a UN inquiry leading to the prosecution of Raisi and other regime officials responsible for the 1988 massacre, which UN Human Rights experts and Amnesty International have characterized as a crime against humanity. They urged the Swedish Government to lead the efforts to establish such an inquiry and to end Iran’s impunity in matters related to human rights.

The President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Maryam Rajavi, addressed the rally live, by video and said:

“Ali Khamenei and his collaborators hanged thousands upon thousands of political prisoners in 1988 to preserve their rule. With the same ruthless brutality, they are killing hundreds of thousands of helpless people today in the inferno of the Coronavirus, again to protect their regime.  

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“We therefore urge the international community to recognise the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 as genocide and a crime against humanity. It is imperative, particularly for the European governments, to revise their policy of turning a blind eye on the largest massacre of political prisoners since World War II. As it was recently stated in the letter by a group of members of the European Parliament to the E.U. foreign policy chief, appeasing and placating the Iranian regime ‘contradicts European commitments to uphold and stand up for human rights’.”

In addition to a number of Swedish parliamentarians from various parties such as Magnus Oscarsson, Alexsandra Anstrell, Hans Eklind, and Kejll Arne Ottosson, other dignitaries including Ingrid Betancourt, the former Colombian presidential candidate, Patrick Kennedy, former member of the U.S. Congress, and Kimmo Sasi, Former Minister of Transport and Communications of Finland, addressed the rally virtually and backed the participants’ demands for an international investigation.

“Today the families of the 1988 victims are subject to persistent threats in Iran,” Betancourt said. “The UN human rights experts have also expressed their alarm on the destruction of the mass graves. The mullahs want to leave no evidence of the crimes for which we are seeking justice. And today the first position of power in Iran is occupied by a perpetrator of those crimes.”

“We said after the Holocaust that we shall never see these crimes against humanity again, and yet we have. The reason is that as an international community we have not stood up and condemned those crimes,” Patrick Kennedy affirmed.

In his remarks, Kimo Sassi said, “The 1988 massacre was one of the darkest moments in Iran’s history. 30,000 political prisoners were sentenced and killed and murdered. There are mass graves in 36 cities in Iran and there was no due process. The massacre was a decision by the supreme leader in Iran, a crime against humanity.”

A number of families of the victims and representatives of the Swedish-Iranian communities also addressed the rally.

The demonstration coincided with the trial of Hamid Noury, one of the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre, who is currently in jail in Stockholm. The trial, which started earlier this month, will continue until April next year with a number of former Iranian political prisoners and survivors testifying against the regime in court.

In 1988, Ruhollah Khomeini, then the supreme leader of the Iranian regime, issued a fatwa ordering the execution of all Mojahedin prisoners who refused to repent.  More than 30,000 political prisoners, the overwhelming majority of them from the MEK, were massacred in a few months. The victims were buried in secret mass graves.

Ebrahim Raisi, the current President of the Iranian regime was one of the four members of the “Death Commission” in Tehran. He sent thousands of the MEK to the gallows in 1988.

There has never been an independent UN inquiry on the massacre. Amnesty International’s secretary general said in a statement on 19 June: “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”

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