Iranian expatriates in Sweden held a conference on Tuesday to discuss the criminal background of the new Iranian president and condemn his participation in the United Nations General Assembly on the same day. A similar conference was held in Washington, DC the evening before. Both events included a virtual address by Iranian resistance leader Maryam Rajavi, as well as the testimony of former Iranian political prisoners and comments from Western lawmakers, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Campaign for Justice for Victims of the 1988 Iranian Massacre.
Kelly Ayotte, a former US Senator from New Hampshire, said at the conference on Monday: “Raisi does not deserve the privilege of addressing the UN General Assembly tomorrow. Raisi should be held responsible for the murder of over 30,000 innocent political prisoners in Iran. ”She then referred to the shooting of around 1,500 peaceful protesters during a nationwide uprising in November 2019 when Raisi was head of the Iranian judiciary. Many critics of the regime have cited his involvement in this raid as evidence of Raisi’s continued commitment to the violent policies displayed in the 1988 massacre.
Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State for the Trump administration, was the prominent speaker at the Washington conference. Referring to the 1988 massacre, Pompeo said: “Ebrahim Raisi himself is personally responsible for the mass execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners, of whom over 5,000 names have been published. The bodies of these brave men and women were thrown into unmarked graves. And because Iran has never allowed an investigation into these murders, and probably never will under that regime, we do not know the true number of Iranians murdered. But it’s almost certainly more than the 5,000 lists of names we have. “
Pompeo also said: “The 1979 actions were, of course, a crucial turning point. To understand Iran and its rightful place in history, we need to uncover the events of 1979. I think that’s why Iran will never again be ruled by a dictatorial shah or a theocratic regime. This fight is the real fight and it began in those terrible first moments of the so-called revolution in 1979. “
Regarding the way forward, Pompeo said, “The United States must take this opportunity from today to lead the world to hold him accountable for the crimes against humanity he has committed. This is not only immoral, it is counterproductive. We should all make this crystal clear to our allies in Europe and Asia and hold them accountable for dealing with this man who sent thousands of his country to execution in 1988. “
In Stockholm, former Iranian political prisoner Nasrollah Marandi addressed the conference on behalf of an entire delegation of political prisoners. “We witnessed the execution of thousands of our friends in Evin, Gohardasht and other prisons,” he said, adding, “Most of us who were in Evin and Gohardasht prisons saw Ebrahim Raisi on the death commission and he sent Thousands of prisoners after the gallows. Many of our friends have witnessed the execution of many MEK [Iranian Resistance] Members of Raisi in Hamedan and Karaj. “
Marandi condemned the United Nations decision to host Raisi’s speech, calling it “a betrayal of the ideals of democracy and human rights.” This feeling was repeated several times by many participants in both conferences. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed at the last minute to the international body to stop Raisi’s participation, while at the same time advising Western powers and leading UN member states to isolate the new Iranian government and deny its president legitimacy on the world stage .
“The world’s leaders should unite to reject Raisi,” said Pompeo. “You should refuse to concern yourself with him, to recognize him as a democratically elected leader – which he is not. It should start this week at the UN General Assembly. “
Although Raisi was technically elected to office on June 18, Pompeo’s remarks highlighted that this “election” was the target of a nationwide boycott, largely organized by the MEK, or Organization of the People’s Mujahideen of Iran. This group has long advocated non-voting due to the lack of real alternatives in a system where the clerical supreme leader has ultimate authority over all affairs of state. But the MEK’s boycott campaign had unprecedented success this year due to tighter controls on the process and a particularly tasteless top candidate.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had apparently fixated on Raisi as the regime’s next president when he named Raisi as head of justice. This appointment was not only a testing ground for Raisi’s commitment to cracking down on dissent, but it was also a clear stepping stone towards the presidency. When the time came to prepare the ballots for the June elections, Khamenei’s intervention resulted in a body known as the Guardian Council excluding anyone of similar high profile from contestation. Of the six candidates left after the review process, two later dropped out at the last minute to put their weight behind Raisi.
The establishment’s embrace of Raisi was in direct contrast to public reactions, including large-scale protests condemning him as the “1988 henchman”. In the run-up to the massacre this year, Raisi became one of four officials on a “death commission” in Tehran that was commissioned by regime founder Ruhollah Khomenei to implement a fatwa. This religious edict expressly ordered the mass execution of MEK members as well as others whose committed opposition to the theocratic dictatorship was viewed as an act of “enmity against God”.
As survivors like Nasrollah Marandi attest, Raisi’s role in the massacre was second to none. In fact, the efficiency with which he carried out death sentences in Evin and Gohardasht Prisons was so well recognized that Khomeini personally expanded his jurisdiction during the massacre, blaming him for far more of the 30,000 deaths than even the other three members of the Tehran Death Commission .
However, these facts were not recognized by the general population until information was collected and leaked from Iranian activists and the MEK’s own intelligence network. Maryam Rajavi, who currently leads the MEK’s mother coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told the Stockholm conference that the Iranian authorities had tried “to carry out the terrible massacre in complete silence”. For this purpose, according to witness statements in the spring of 1988, political wards were largely cut off from the outside world. And although reports of an increase in politically motivated executions quickly reached the international community, the full extent of these killings has not been known for years and has yet to be confirmed by a formal international investigation.
The Washington and Stockholm conferences served to reiterate the call for such an investigation, in particular to the American and Swedish governments and to the leadership of the European Union in order to advance efforts to set up a UN commission of inquiry. “Such a measure will allow the United Nations to initiate the international persecution of Khamenei, Raisi and other regime leaders for four decades of crimes against humanity and genocide,” Rajavi told the gathering on Monday.
The specific accusation of genocide is supported by several legal scholars, some of whom have spoken before previous conferences organized by the NCRI. In August, Eric David, professor of international law at the University of Brussels, and Geoffrey Robertson, a British human rights lawyer, advocated the prosecution of the 1988 massacre as genocide at such a conference. David described the victims as killed “because they belonged to a current of Islam that opposed the mullahs’ regime” and that this corresponds to the definition in Article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Robertson also referred to this convention, noting that in response to such a crime it is taking measures that are mandatory for nations that have ratified the document. As stressed at both conferences this week, these measures could be taken by referring the 1988 massacre dossier to the UN Security Council and pursuing a resolution that could lead to indictment before the International Criminal Court. However, Mike Pompeo appeared to be advocating a more immediate solution, presumably including the application of “universal jurisdiction,” the principle that the Swedish authorities invoked in 2019 to justify the arrest of a minority participant in the massacre, Hamid Noury.
“Raisi should be prosecuted, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. We should prosecute him now, ”said Pompeo. Other proponents of accountability have invoked universal jurisdiction more explicitly, with Eric David declaring that its application to the 1988 massacre “does not create legal difficulties”.