PARIS: Iranian presidential favorite Ebrahim Raisi has used his position at the heart of the justice system for serious rights violations, including mass executions of political prisoners, activists say.
They say Raisi – who now has victory in sight on Friday after even conservative rivals were disqualified during verification – should face international justice rather than rule his country.
At 60, the middle-ranking cleric is still relatively young for a figure who has held a succession of key positions, beginning almost immediately after the shah’s fall in the 1979 revolution.
At just 20 years old, he was appointed prosecutor of Karaj district and then of Hamadan province, before being promoted in 1985 to deputy prosecutor of Tehran.
It is in this role, activists say, that Raisi played a key role in the executions of thousands of opposition prisoners – most of them suspected members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). outlawed – when, according to activists, he was part of a four-man group “Death Committee” who sent death row inmates without due process.
Raisi, seen as a possible successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denied any personal involvement in the 1988 murders but also welcomed the decision to carry out the executions.
He then became chief prosecutor of Tehran in 1989, then in 2004, deputy chief of the judiciary, a position he held for 10 years. Since 2019, he has been the head of the judiciary.
“Raisi’s only place is in the dock, not in the presidency,” said Shadi Sadr, executive director of London-based Justice for Iran, which campaigns against impunity for crimes committed in Iran. “The mere fact that he is currently the head of the judiciary and a candidate for the presidency demonstrates the level of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of heinous crimes in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” she said.
The 1988 murders, which took place from July to September of the same year, allegedly on the direct orders of the revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, remain a near taboo in modern Iran. Most rights groups and historians say between 4,000 and 5,000 were killed, but the PMOI’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), puts the figure at close to from 30,000.
Hossein Abedini, member of the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee, described Raisi as a “killer with a heart of stone” with a “record of 40 years of repression”.
Last year, seven UN special rapporteurs told the Iranian government that “the situation could amount to crimes against humanity” and called for an international investigation if Tehran does not fully show its responsibilities.
Amnesty International reached a similar conclusion in a 2018 report, which identified Raisi as a member of Tehran’s “death commission” which secretly sent thousands to their deaths in Evin Prison in Tehran. and Gohardasht prison in Karaj.
Former prisoners, now living in exile and who said they had survived the massacres, testified to having personally seen Raisi working as a member of the commission.
The vast majority of the bodies were buried in anonymous mass graves and Iran continues to hide the fate of the victims and the fate of their remains, he accused.