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Time to investigate the 1988 massacre in Iran and the role of its next president - Ebrahim Raisi




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On 5 August, the Iranian regime will inaugurate its new president, Ebrahim Raisi, trying to whitewash his history of human-rights abuses. In 1988, he played a key role in the regime’s massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were activists with the main opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (or MEK).

Based on a fatwa by then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, “death commissions” throughout Iran ordered the execution of political prisoners who refused to abandon their beliefs. Victims were buried in secret mass graves, the locations of which were never revealed to relatives. In recent years, the regime has systematically has destroyed those graves to hide any evidence of the crime, which has been described by renowned jurists throughout the world as one of the most tragic crimes against humanity to take place in the second half of the 20th century.

The massacre has never been independently investigated by the UN. The perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity, with many of them occupying the most senior government positions. Raisi is now the most notable example of this phenomenon, and he has never denied his role as a member of the Tehran Death Commission.


On 3 September 2020, seven United Nations Special Rapporteurs wrote to Iranian authorities stating that the 1988 extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances “may amount to crimes against humanity”. In May, a group of more than 150 rights campaigners, including Nobel laureates, former heads of state and former UN officials, called for an international investigation into the 1988 killings.

As the UN experts’ letter confirms, families of the victims, survivors and human rights defenders are today subject of persistent threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks because of their attempts to seek information on the fate and whereabouts of the victims. With Raisi’s rise to the Presidency, an investigation into the 1988 massacre is more vital than ever.

On June 19, 2021, Amnesty International’s secretary-general said in a statement: “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. 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.”


Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said on 29 June that over the years his office has gathered testimonies and evidence of the state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. He said his office was ready to share them if the UN Human Rights Council or another body sets up an impartial investigation, adding: “It’s very important now that Raisi is the president-elect that we start investigating what happened in 1988 and the role of individuals."

On Tuesday (27 July) it was announced that prosecutors in Sweden had charged an Iranian with war crimes over the mass execution of prisoners in 1988. The suspect was not named but is widely believed to be 60-year-old Hamid Noury.

Documents registered with the Swedish Prosecution Authority include a list of 444 PMOI prisoners who were hanged in Gohardasht prison alone. A book entitled “Crimes against Humanity” names more than 5,000 Mojahedin, and a book entitled “Massacre of Political Prisoners” published by the PMOI 22 years ago, names Hamid Noury as one of many known perpetrators of the massacre, and the memoirs of a number of PMOI members and sympathizers.

Prosecutors were invoked the principle of "universal jurisdiction" for serious crimes in order to bring the case. In a statement released on Tuesday, Sweden's Prosecution Authority said the charges related to the suspect's time as assistant to the deputy prosecutor at Gohardasht prison in Karaj. Noury was arrested at Stockholm airport on 9 November 2019 upon his arrival from Tehran. He has been held behind bars ever since and his trial is scheduled for 10 August.

According to documents in the case, Noury exchanged emails with an Iranian-Swedish dual national by the name of Iraj Mesdaghi 10 months prior to his trip to Sweden. Ironically, Mesdaghi is one of the plaintiffs in the case against Noury and testified against him. The War Crimes Unit (WCU) of the National Operations Department (NOA) of the Swedish Police found Iraj Mesdaghi’s email address on Hamid Noury's phone and noted that he had sent two emails to that address on January 17, 2019. This has created questions about Mesdaghis true role and objective.

When faced with questioning, Noury did his utmost to evade answering investigating officers, and Mesdaghi said he could not remember the email exchange. But the evidence draws attention to investigation which confirmed that Mesdaghi had been summoned to Evin Prsion by Noury years ago and he practically acceptedto collaborate with the regime. 

Iran policy has always been a vexing issue for the West but come August 5, the West has to make a decision: Whether to call for a UN investigation of the 1988 massacre and role of the Iranian officials including Raisi, or to join the ranks of those who have violated their principles and turned their backs on Iranians by engaging with the Iranian regime. What is at the stake is no longer just Iran policy, but also the sacred values and moral principles that the West has fought for generations.


EU’s Borrell: No ministerial meeting with Iran this week in New York



EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insisted that there will no ministerial meeting with Iran at the United Nations headquarters in New York this week to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), contrary to what French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian suggested, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Speaking to journalists, Borrell repeated several times that there would not be a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission on Wednesday (22 September).

“Some years it happens, some years it doesn’t happen. It’s not in the agenda,” said Borrell, who acts as coordinator for the JCPOA.


Le Drian said on Monday (20 September) that there would be a ministerial meeting of the nuclear deal parties.

“We need to take advantage of this week to restart these talks. Iran must accept to return as quickly as possible by appointing its representatives for the negotiations,” the French minister said.

The JCPOA Joint Commission, made up of Foreign Ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia and from Iran, had met in Vienna in order to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, but talks were adjourned in June after hardliner Ebrahim Raisi was elected Iran’s president.


‘’The important thing is not this ministerial meeting, but the will of all parties to resume negotiations in Vienna,” said Borrell who was due to meet the new Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in New York.

"I will have the first opportunity to know and to talk with the new Minister of Iran. And, certainly, during this meeting, I will call on Iran to resume the talks in Vienna as soon as possible," he added.

“After the elections (in Iran) the new presidency asked for the delay in order to take fully take stock of the negotiations and understand better everything about this very sensitive file,” Borrell said. “The summer has already passed by and we expect that the talks can be resuming soon in Vienna.”

The world powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna to try and work out how both can return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018.

Trump reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran, which then started breaching curbs on its nuclear programme. Tehran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes only.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden stressed his willingness to resume the 2015 deal if Iran complies with its terms. “The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon… We’re prepared to return to full compliance with the deal if Iran does the same,” he said.

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



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. 


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. 


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



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.


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.


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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