He has a blood-soaked history. Raisi is on the US sanctions list for multiple human rights violations. He is a murderer and perpetrator of genocide who openly boasted of his role as a member of the “death commission” that oversaw the massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988, most of whom were members or supporters of the democratic opposition movement Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
According to eyewitness accounts, Raisi often oversaw the torture of men and women and then personally witnessed their execution. Since becoming president in August 2021, he has built his reputation as an executioner, overseeing 582 executions, including 22 women and eight juvenile offenders, double the number of executions last year. In the last three weeks alone, 67 people have been executed.
Agnès Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, has called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity and his involvement in murder, enforced disappearance and torture.
And Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: “As head of Iran’s repressive judiciary, Raisi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran’s recent history that deserve investigation and accountability, rather than in to be elected to high office.”
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Raisi was the head of the Iranian regime’s judiciary when orders were given to shoot protesters during a nationwide uprising in November 2019. More than 1,500 people were killed and thousands injured.
Many of the injured were dragged from their hospital beds by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), then detained and tortured. Several were subsequently executed on Raisi’s orders.
Raisi was blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department in November 2019 for this and other serial human rights abuses, and in 2021 the State Department imposed immigration restrictions on him based on a finding that he was a senior Iranian official who participated in the commission of was involved in serious human rights violations.
However, the butcher of Tehran now struts around the UN General Assembly in New York, ignoring US sanctions and meeting with other despots and dictators. How can he be held accountable for his crimes?
When Raisi announced his intention to attend the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last November, survivors of the 1988 massacre and relatives of some of the victims submitted a 110-page dossier to both the Metropolitan Police in London and Police Scotland, demanding his Arrest for crimes against humanity and genocide under universal jurisdiction, the legal principle that allows states or even international organizations to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person, regardless of where the alleged crimes were committed and regardless of the person’s nationality .
Raisi hastily changed his travel plans, explaining that he had never intended to come to Glasgow in the first place.
The American justice system does not provide for universal jurisdiction, but in late August, several individual political prisoners who survived the 1988 massacre and the families of their loved ones who were murdered filed a formal complaint with the US Court for the Southern District of New York , under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act against Raisi for crimes against humanity and genocide.
The plaintiffs’ case outlined how a fatwa (religious edict) issued by Iran’s then supreme leader – Ruhollah Khomeini – in the summer of 1988 resulted in the hanging of some 30,000 political prisoners and the torture of others.
“Death commissions” set up by the clerical regime across the country to execute the fatwa decided which prisoners should live and which should be executed after only minutes of interrogation.
As deputy prosecutor, Raisi served on the death commissions at Evin prison in Tehran and Gohardasht prison in the city of Karaj, west of the capital. He was personally responsible for sending thousands of MEK prisoners to the gallows.
Raisi will be in New York until the end of the UN General Assembly on Monday. During that time, the complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan may be formally served on him.
He cannot claim diplomatic immunity as head of state, since according to the Iranian constitution the head of state is the supreme leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Raisi is not a diplomat and is not entitled to the privileges accorded to diplomats under the Vienna Convention. Nor can diplomatic immunity be used as a guarantee of diplomatic impunity, as a recent case in Belgium has clearly shown. Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat at the regime’s embassy in Vienna, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his central role in a terrorist attack on an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June 2018.
The plaintiffs in the New York civil suit are citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. They allege that Raisi was personally responsible for committing multiple crimes under international law, including torture, extrajudicial killings, crimes against humanity and genocide, and that he is therefore personally liable to his victims and their survivors.
On August 28, Jesse M Furman, a judge for the Southern District of New York, where the complaint was filed, scheduled November 15, 2022 for the pretrial hearing on the complaints against Raisi and pursuant to the civil trial. ordered the lawyers of all parties to attend the conference that day. It will be a historic occasion as Raisi’s crimes will be brought to justice for the first time.
Struan Stevenson is coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), President of Parliament’s delegation for relations with Iraq (2009-14) and Chair of the Intergroup of Friends of a Free Iran (2004-14). He is an International Middle East Lecturer and President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.