West must not fall for Iran regime’s propaganda
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s new president, has been widely condemned as a mass murderer. Specifically at issue is Raisi’s key role in the 1988 massacre of an estimated 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were affiliated with the principal opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). There have now been key developments that will in all probability lead to serious political and legal challenges for Raisi and the regime.
Internationally, calls to hold the regime’s leaders accountable for the 1988 massacre are becoming louder. The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, in June called for the formation of an independent inquiry. “I think it is time and it’s very important now that Mr. Raisi is the president that we start investigating what happened in 1988,” he told Reuters.
Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard has also said: “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”
That culture of impunity is finally beginning to be challenged. After 33 years, Sweden’s judiciary is this month slated to begin the trial of Hamid Noury, the first person to be prosecuted for the 1988 massacre. Noury was arrested by Swedish authorities in November 2019 as he arrived in the country for a personal visit. According to an indictment submitted by prosecutors, “(former Supreme Leader Ayatollah) Khomeini issued a decree (in the summer of 1988), stating that all prisoners in Iranian prisons who were affiliated with or supporters of the MEK… were to be executed. Shortly thereafter, mass executions began of supporters and sympathizers of the MEK who were imprisoned in Iran’s prisons.”
Swedish prosecutors have copious amounts of documents, including a list of 444 MEK prisoners who were hanged in one prison alone. The documents also refer to a book that includes the names of more than 5,000 MEK supporters. Among the victims of the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre were teenage girls and pregnant women, according to senior regime official Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who was at the time slated to become the supreme leader but was placed under house arrest for criticizing the mass killings.
Meanwhile, the regime is trying to muddy the waters by spreading misinformation about the 1988 massacre, both inside and outside of Iran, through a network of intelligence agents and functionaries who are beholden to it. Tehran has exploited free speech in Western countries to advance its malicious policies through lobbyists. For example, earlier this year, American authorities announced the arrest of an Iranian national accused of being an “unregistered agent of the Iranian government.” For years, he had acted as a scholar, publishing books and articles advancing the Iranian regime’s political agenda while being secretly employed by Tehran’s mission to the UN.
Tehran has exploited free speech in Western countries to advance its malicious policies through lobbyists.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The regime is using similar tactics when it comes to the 1988 massacre. For example, the Swedish police, while investigating Noury, discovered emails he had sent to an Iranian-Swedish national named Iraj Mesdaghi. He claimed to be among the survivors of the 1988 massacre and weighed in as a plaintiff in the proceedings, so his correspondence with Noury 10 months before the latter’s arrest in Sweden was extremely curious. The audio recordings of Noury’s police interviews were released by prosecutors in Sweden and, when questioned about the emails, he claimed he did know how to use his email account. For his part, Mesdaghi said he could not remember receiving any emails from Noury and denied having any communications with him at all.
The regime has always been adept at such influence operations. Former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian explained in an interview with state-run TV in 2017: “It is obvious that we don’t send an agent to Germany or America and, for example, say, ‘OK, I am an agent of the intelligence ministry.’ Obviously, he would work under the cover of business or other jobs, including reporters.” The regime’s intelligence agency has also employed people on the pretense of being opposition figures to advance its agenda.
As Western interlocutors have experienced on numerous occasions, the Iranian regime is not only merciless, it is also deceitful. It uses various tactics to confuse and influence Western public opinion, particularly when it comes to extremely important historical crimes like the 1988 massacre.
Western governments should be clear-eyed and overcome the propaganda spewed by the regime’s intelligence agents. It is also time to finally heed the calls made by UN experts and leading human rights organizations and launch an independent investigation into the 1988 massacre, with particular focus on the role played by Raisi.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh