Iranian expatriates in Sweden held a conference on Tuesday to discuss the criminal background of Iran’s new president and to condemn his participation in the United Nations General Assembly that same day. The prior evening, a similar conference was held in Washington, D.C. Both events featured a virtual address by the Iranian Resistance leader Maryam Rajavi, as well as the testimony of former Iranian political prisoners and comments from Western lawmakers who support the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the campaign seeking justice for the victims of Iran’s 1988 massacre.
Kelly Ayotte, a former US Senator from New Hampshire, said in Monday’s conference, “Raisi does not deserve the privilege to address the UN General Assembly tomorrow. Raisi should be held responsible for the murder of over 30,000 innocent political prisoners in Iran.” She then went on to reference the shooting deaths of approximately 1,500 peaceful protesters during a nationwide uprising in November 2019, at which time Raisi was the head of the Iranian judiciary. Many of the regime’s critics have pointed to his involvement in that crackdown as evidence of Raisi’s ongoing commitment to the violent political strategies on display in the 1988 massacre.
Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State in the Trump administration was the prominent speaker of the Washington conference. In his speech, Pompeo referred to the 1988 massacre and said, “Ebrahim Raisi, himself, is personally responsible for the mass execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners, names of over 5,000 have been published. The bodies of these brave men and women were dumped in unmarked graves. And Because Iran has never, and likely under this regime will never allow an investigation into these killings, we do not know the true number of Iranians who were murdered. But it is almost certainly more than the 5,000 lists of names that we have.”
Pompeo also said, “The actions in 1979 were of course a key turning point. To understand Iran and its rightful place in history we must unpack what happened in 1979. I think this is why Iran will never return to rule by a dictatorial Shah or theocratic regime. This fight is the real fight and it began in those frightful first moments of the so-called revolution in 1979.”
Concerning the path forward, Pompeo said, “The United States must lead the world, starting today, on this occasion, to hold him accountable for crimes against humanity that he committed Any dealings with Raisi, would be tantamount to dealing with a mass murderer. This is not only immoral but counterproductive. All of us should make this crystal clear to our allies in Europe and Asia as well and hold them accountable if they deal with this man that sent thousands of his country to execution in 1988.”
In Stockholm on Tuesday, 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 in the death commission and he sent thousands of prisoners to the gallows. Many of our friends witnessed the execution of many MEK [Iranian Resistance] members by Raisi in Hamedan and Karaj.”
Marandi went on to condemn the UN’s decision to host Raisi’s speech, calling it “a betrayal to the ideals of democracy and human rights.” This sentiment was repeated many times by many participants in both conferences. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conveyed a last-minute appeal for the international body to halt Raisi’s participation, while also advising Western powers and leading UN member states to isolate the new Iranian administration and deny legitimacy to its president on the world stage.
“World leaders should band together to reject Raisi,” Pompeo said. “You should refuse to engage with him, to acknowledge him as a democratically elected leader—which he is not. It should start this week at the UN General Assembly.”
Although Raisi was technically voted into office on June 18, Pompeo’s remarks highlighted the fact that that “election” was the target of a nationwide boycott organized in large part by the MEK, or People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. That group has long advocated for non-participation in elections on account of the absence of genuine alternatives within a system where the clerical supreme leader wields ultimate authority over all matters of state. But the MEK’s boycott campaign had unprecedented success this year, due to tighter controls over the process and a particularly distasteful leading candidate.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had seemingly fixated on Raisi as the regime’s next president by the time he appointed Raisi as head of the judiciary. As well as being a testing ground for Raisi’s commitment to cracking down on dissent, that appointment provided a clear steppingstone toward the presidency. When the time came to create the ballot for the June election, Khamenei’s intervention led a body known as the Guardian Council to bar all similarly high-profile individuals from contention. Of the six candidates who remained after the vetting process, two later dropped out at the last moment to put their weight behind Raisi.
The establishment’s embrace of Raisi stood in direct opposition to reactions from the general public, which included large-scale protests condemning him as the “henchman of 1988.” In the run-up to that year’s massacre, Raisi became one of four officials assigned to a “death commission” in Tehran which was tasked with implementing a fatwa by the regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomenei. That religious edict explicitly ordered the mass execution of MEK members, as well as other persons whose committed opposition to the theocratic dictatorship was deemed 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 implemented death sentences in Evin and Gohardasht prisons was so well-recognized that Khomeini personally expanded his jurisdiction while the massacre was ongoing, making him responsible for far more of the 30,000 deaths than even the other three members of the Tehran death commission.
Such facts were not, however, well-recognized by the general population until information began to be obtained and leaked by Iranian activists and by the MEK’s own intelligence network. Maryam Rajavi, who presently leads the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told the Stockholm conference that Iranian authorities had sought to “carry out the horrendous massacre in total silence.” Toward that end, political wards were largely cut off from the outside world in the spring of 1988, according to witness accounts. And although reports of a surge in politically motivated executions very quickly reached the international community, the full scale of those killings would not be known for years and has yet to be confirmed via a formal, international investigation.
The Washington and Stockholm conferences served to reiterate calls for such an investigation, and specifically for the American and Swedish governments, as well as the leadership of the European Union, to spearhead efforts to set up a UN commission of inquiry. “Such a measure will enable the UN to arrange for the international prosecution of Khamenei, Raisi, and other regime leaders for committing four decades of crimes against humanity and genocide,” Mrs. Rajavi told Monday’s gathering.
The specific allegation of genocide is supported by multiple legal scholars, some of whom have spoken before previous NCRI-organized conferences. In August, Eric David, a professor of international law at the University of Brussels, and Geoffrey Robertson, a UK human rights barrister, both made the case for prosecuting the 1988 massacre as genocide in one such conference. David described the victims as having been killed “because they belonged to a current of Islam that the mullahs’ regime contested,” and that this suits the definition in article two of the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Robertson also referenced that convention and noted that it takes action in response to such a crime obligatory for nations that have ratified the document. As both of this week’s conferences emphasized, that action could be taken by referring the dossier of the 1988 massacre to the UN Security Council and pursuing a resolution that may lead to prosecution at the International Criminal Court. However, Mike Pompeo seemed to advocate for a more immediate solution, presumably involving the application of “universal jurisdiction,” the principle invoked by Swedish authorities in 2019 to justify the arrest of a lower-level participant in the massacre, Hamid Noury.
“Raisi should be prosecuted, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. We should prosecute him now,” Pompeo said. Other advocates for accountability have invoked universal jurisdiction more explicitly, with Eric David stating that its application to the 1988 massacre “raises no legal difficulty.”