Ebrahim Raisi, the favorite in Iran’s presidential election, has used his position at the heart of the judiciary to commit serious violations of rights, including mass executions of political prisoners, activists say.
They say Raisi – who now has his sights set on victory on Friday after disqualifying even conservative rivals in the review – should face international justice rather than run his country.
At 60, the middle cleric is still relatively young for a personality who held a number of key positions that began almost immediately after the overthrow of the Shah in the 1979 Islamic revolution.
When he was just 20 years old, he was appointed prosecutor for Karaj County and then Hamadan Province before being promoted to Deputy Prosecutor in Tehran in 1985.
In that role, activists claim, Raisi played a key role in the execution of thousands of opposition prisoners – mostly suspected members of the banned People’s Mujahideen of Iran (MEK) – as activists say he is part of a four-member “death committee” that has condemned without a proper one Procedure sent to death.
Raisi, who is seen by some Iranian media as a possible successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denied personal involvement in the 1988 killings, but has also praised the decision to carry out the executions.
He then became Chief Prosecutor in Tehran in 1989 and Deputy Chief of Justice in 2004, a position he held for 10 years.
He has headed the judiciary since 2019.
“Raisi’s only place is in the dock, not the presidency,” said Shadi Sadr, executive director of the London-based judiciary for Iran, which campaigns against impunity for crimes in Iran.
“The mere fact that he is currently the head of justice and running for president shows how much impunity the perpetrators of the heinous crimes enjoy in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” she said.
– ‘No mercy’ –
The 1988 murders, which allegedly took place from July to September of the same year on the direct orders of the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, remain almost a taboo in modern Iran.
Most human rights groups and historians say between 4,000 and 5,000 were killed, but the MEK’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), puts the number closer to 30,000.
Last year, seven UN special rapporteurs to the Iranian government said “the situation could amount to crimes against humanity” and called for an international investigation if Tehran fails to show full accountability.
Amnesty International came to a similar conclusion in a 2018 report identifying Raisi as a member of the Tehran “Death Commission” that secretly sent thousands to their deaths in Evin Prisons in Tehran and Gohardasht Prison in Karaj.
The vast majority of bodies were buried in unmarked mass graves, and Iran continues to withhold the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their remains, it said.
The Iran researcher of the human rights group Raha Bahreini told the AFP that Raisi “should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture”, also by foreign countries, according to the principle of universal jurisdiction.
According to a 2016 audio recording, Hossein Ali Montazeri, once Khomeini’s likely successor but later sidelined, told “Death Commission” members, including Raisi, in August 1988 that the murders were the “greatest crime in the history of the Islamic” republic ” .
Hossein Abedini, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the NCRI, described Raisi as a “stone-hearted murderer” with a “40 year history of repression.”
Former prisoners now in exile who said they survived the massacres testified at a conference organized by the NCRI last week that they saw Raisi personally at work as a member of the commission.
“When I joined the Death Commission, I saw Raisi … a white shirt and Revolutionary Guard uniform,” Reza Shemirani, who had been imprisoned for 10 years and now lives in Switzerland, told the conference.
Raisi, he said, was the “most active member of the commission” while Mahmoud Royaei, who was incarcerated from 1981 to 1991, said Raisi made “every effort to have everyone executed”.
Royaei added, “He had no mercy.”
– ‘Pillar of a system’ –
When the US Treasury Department accepted Raisi in sanctions against members of the Khamenei Inner Circle in November 2019, it said he had served on the 1988 death commission and was also involved in the “brutal crackdown” of protests following the controversial 2009 presidential election.
Under Raisi, according to Amnesty’s Bahreini, the judiciary ensured those responsible for a bloody crackdown in November 2019 against protesters in which hundreds were killed were given âtotal impunityâ.
“Raisi is one pillar of a system that imprisons, tortures and kills people for dare to criticize government policies,” said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York Center for Human Rights in Iran.
“Instead of running for president, he should be tried in an impartial court,” he said.
Â© 2021 AFP