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Bennett: Iran behind attack on Israeli-managed ship near Oman coast, UK and US join Israel in blaming Tehran

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has blamed Iran for the attack that left two dead on the Israeli-managed oil tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea last week, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday (1 August), Bennett said: ‘’The world recently received a reminder of Iranian aggression, this time on the high seas. The Iranians, who attacked the ship ‘Mercer Street’ with unmanned aerial vehicles, intended to attack an Israeli target. Instead, their act of piracy led to the deaths of a British citizen and a Romanian citizen. From here, I send condolences to Britain and Romania and, of course, to the families of the victims.’’

He added: ‘’I just heard that Iran, in a cowardly manner, is trying to evade responsibility for the event. They are denying this. Then, I determine, with absolute certainty that Iran carried out the attack against the ship. Iran’s thuggishness endangers not only Israel, but also harms global interests, namely freedom of navigation and international trade.’’

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He concluded: ‘’The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake. In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.’’

The Japanese-owned ship Mercer Street is managed by Zodiac Maritime Ltd., a London-based company owned by Israeli tycoon Eyal Ofer. It sails under a Liberian flag.

According to Zodiac Maritime’s website, when the incident occurred the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, en route to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with no cargo aboard.

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The United States and the United Kingdom joined Israel in accusing Iran for carrying out the attack, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.

Calling it an “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was “no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior.”

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously, which crash into targets and detonate their explosive payloads.

In his statement, Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones.

“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran,” said Raab. “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”

Blinken similarly described the US as “confident” Iran carried out the attack, using multiple drones.

“These actions threaten freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved,” he said in a statement.

On Monday (2 August), Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said that his country will work with international partners on a response to the Iranian attack.

“Based on the available info, Romania strongly condemns the Iranian drone attack against Mercer Street, during which a Romanian citizen was killed,” Aurescu tweeted. “There is no justification whatsoever for deliberately attacking civilians.”

The Iranian threat remains the Israeli government’s highest priority, both in their ambition to become a nuclear threshold state and their plans for regional hegemony and supporting proxies against Israel in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip

Israel hopes this latest attack and the clear intelligence that Iran was responsible will strengthen the resolve of the international community to recognise the dangers inherent within the Iranian regime

Iran will likely be the top agenda item when Prime Minister Bennett travels to the US to meet President Biden later this month.

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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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