In the final week of August alone, Iranian communities held rallies in at least six countries to call attention to unresolved crimes against humanity and to condemn what opposition activists have called Western strategies of “appeasement” vis-à-vis Iran’s regime. The rallies took place in reaction to one prominent example of that strategy, and in anticipation of another. In July, it was revealed that Belgian authorities had entered into an agreement that could see the release of a convicted Iranian diplomat-terrorist, and it is expected that in September the Iranian regime’s President Ebrahim Raisi will visit New York to take part in the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Supporters of the leading opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, have been calling for the US government to deny Raisi a visa ever since it was revealed that he might attend. Their protests warn that by granting him permission to visit and to address an international audience, the US and the UN both risk legitimizing a criminal who stands accused of serious crimes against humanity, both historical and recent.
The PMOI was the prime target for a massacre of political prisoners that took place in the summer of 1988, and Raisi was a prime instrument of that massacre. As Tehran’s deputy prosecutor at the time, Raisi was tapped to sit on the four-person “death commission” in the capital city, which oversaw the abrupt interrogations and ensuing executions of persons who were deemed guilty of “enmity against God” through their affiliation with the pro-democracy opposition. It is estimated that nationwide more than 30,000 people were killed during the massacre, with the greatest portion of those victims coming from the two prisons over which the Tehran death commission had authority.
Among the recent European and North American rallies, one in Toronto specifically served as a memorial to the victims of the 1988 massacre, just ahead of Canada’s “Day of Solidarity with Iranian Political Prisoners,” which parliament designated for September 1 in 2013. Several Canadian lawmakers spoke before that gathering, including Irwin Cotler, a former Justice Minister and Attorney General who noted that Canada’s parliament was “the first parliament in the world to condemn this mass murder as a crime against humanity.”
That fact is a testament to how long the 1988 massacre has remained unresolved and underreported, despite having been brought to the international community’s attention even as it was still ongoing. In September 2020, several UN human rights experts wrote an open letter to Iranian authorities on this topic and acknowledged that the international body would be responsible for resolving the issue if Tehran remained unwilling to take its own actions to hold known perpetrators accountable.
Unsurprisingly, the authorities in question declined to respond to that letter, the authors of which stated that the UN’s prior failure to act had “a devastating impact on the survivors and families as well as on the general situation of human rights in Iran.” The letter also described the Iranian regime as having been “emboldened” in its actions, confirming how the “appeasement” policy and the western governments’ negligence to vigorously pursue justice for Iranian terrorists and human rights abusers have fueled the crisis of impunity in Iran.
To date, only one person involved in the 1988 massacre has faced any meaningful accountability, namely the former Gohardasht Prison official Hamid Noury, who was arrested by Swedish authorities in 2019. The resulting trial proceeded on the basis of “universal jurisdiction” over serious violations of international law that remain unresolved anywhere in the world. In July, Noury was sentenced to life in prison for war crimes and mass murder, but the nearly simultaneous announcement of the Belgian-Iranian treaty for “Transfer of Sentenced Persons” promptly raised concerns about European governments’ commitment to upholding such sentences.
Supporters of #Iran opposition PMOI/MEK rallied in the U.S. & Europe condemning the regime's rights violations & calling on the U.S. admin to deny a visa for Iranian regime President Ebrahim Raisi prior to next month’s UN General Assembly.#NoVisa4Raisihttps://t.co/ScDf6YAczB
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) August 28, 2022
In March, the Belgian government secretly negotiated that treaty in the wake of months of pressure from Tehran, during which time a Belgian aid worker was reportedly arrested on trumped-up charges to be used as leverage for a future prisoner exchange. The prospective exchange is incentivizing the Iranian regime to take even more Western hostages at a time when around 20 are already known to be either serving sentences or awaiting trial. Furthermore, the incentive would be even greater in the wake of terrorist incidents that led to the arrest of terrorists like Assadollah Assadi.
That so-called “diplomat” is currently serving a 20-year sentence in Belgium based on his efforts to carry out a bomb attack against an Iranian expatriate gathering near Paris, at a time when he was the third counselor at the Iranian embassy in Austria. Three other individuals were also arrested and sentenced to up to 18 years in connection with that 2018 plot, which primarily sought to kill Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian opposition’s president-elect.
Had the bomb not been discovered by law enforcement en route from Belgium to France, its explosion might have constituted the worst terrorist attack on European soil to date. Dozens of European and American dignitaries were in close proximity to Mrs. Rajavi over the course of that event, and some of them would have no doubt been killed or injured if the attack had been carried out. This fact only adds to public consternation from Iranian activists and their supporters over Western governments’ apparent lack of interest in pursuing accountability at higher levels.
Assadi’s trial firmly established that he had been acting upon orders from the highest officials in the Iranian regime.
Last month marked the first anniversary of Raisi’s inauguration, and over the course of that year, the Iranian regime has only accelerated its various malign activities, both at home and abroad.
Things will only continue to get worse for the Iranian people and for global security if the Iranian regime receives any further messages reinforcing its sense of impunity. Raisi’s embrace by the UN General Assembly would be among the clearest such messages since it entails overlooking the 20th century’s worst unresolved crime against humanity, as well as a laundry list of similarly repressive actions that Raisi has either enabled or directly participated in.
The UN has the power to rebuff the regime’s president or, better still, to open an investigation leading to his trial at the International Criminal Court. But in the absence of broad international agreement on the reversal of an appeasement strategy, the US government has unilateral authority to deny Raisi a visa and thus signal to the Iranian people that it has finally heard the protests that accompanied a mass boycott of the faux election that brought to power “the butcher of Tehran.”