LONDON: Iran now has an “international criminal” as its president, according to a panel of experts who warned that this could mean he faces arrest if he leaves the country and may be unable to attend the UN.
At an event on Thursday hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and attended by Arab News, a panel of diplomats and human rights experts said Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacres of political prisoners means he is guilty of crimes against humanity — a label that could seriously harm his global diplomatic standing.
“We now have an international criminal as president ... He’s guilty of crimes against humanity, committed in late 1988 by the slaughter of thousands of prisoners,” said Geoffrey Robertson, a former UN appeal judge and former president of the war crimes court in Sierra Leone.
Robertson, who has conducted an extensive investigation into the 1988 massacres, added that Raisi and his Justice Department henchmen sent prisoners to their deaths in “two waves.”
First killed, Robertson said, were members, allies and sympathizers of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a political group that participated in the 1979 revolution but was later turned upon by the regime following a political disagreement.
“Most of them had actually already completed their sentences. They were executed without pity,” said Robertson.
“The second wave was of theocratic dissidents: Communists, atheists, left-wingers. They were executed for being opposed to the theocratic state of Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini. There we have a crime against humanity.”
Most of the people killed were detained for participating in protests in the early 1980s, said Robertson. They were then subjected to what Amnesty International has called “death commissions,” in which judiciary officials led by Raisi, who was then a prosecutor in Tehran, asked them apparently innocuous questions.
“They didn’t know it, but on their answers their lives depended,” said Robertson. Those who gave answers indicating an MEK or atheist affiliation were blindfolded and “ordered to join a conga line that led straight to the gallows,” he added.
“They were hung from cranes four at a time … Some were taken to army barracks at night, directed to make their wills and then shot by firing squad.”
Raisi’s direct involvement in these crimes could come back to bite Iran in an unexpected way, Robertson said.
“The UN will have to grapple with the fact that one of its members is led by an international criminal,” he added.
“If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled under its law — universal jurisdiction as we call it — to arrest him and put him on trial,” said Robertson.
Nick Fluck, president emeritus of the law society of England and Wales, pointed out that Raisi has said in press conferences that he is “proud” of his role in the 1988 massacres.
This “serves as an important wakeup call that we can’t just sit silently on the sidelines. Silence and inaction don’t produce change, and in this case it’s clear that change is radically needed,” Fluck said.
“This is a leader who’ll be widely, I hope, shunned. There will be a lack of credibility about anything he may say.”
Fluck said Raisi’s domestic legitimacy is also seriously lacking, following an election that saw heavy state involvement, with hundreds of candidates barred from running and millions of Iranians boycotting the poll.
“Dissidents and reformists urged voters to boycott the poll. That’s perhaps why, although he inevitably won the election, he did so with a very low turnout,” Fluck added.