Iranian regime’s President Ebrahim Raisi is currently expected to speak before the United Nations General Assembly sometime after the opening of its 77th session on September 13. Of course, this would require that the United States first grant him a visa to visit New York – something that would, in turn, afford him an undue claim to legitimacy while signaling disregard for his long history of violating human rights while promoting terrorism and extremism throughout the world.
Raisi was installed via a sham election process in June 2021 after being endorsed by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. No other prominent political figures were permitted to appear on the ballot, and two minor candidates dropped out of the race at the last moment to throw their weight behind the supreme leader’s pick. Meanwhile, the leading pro-democracy opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), urged the public to boycott the polls as a means to “vote for regime change.”
The vast majority of the Iranian people embraced that appeal. Even the regime’s own account of his election agrees that voter turnout was the lowest in the regime’s history. The MEK, meanwhile, assessed that less than ten percent of eligible voters took part in the process, with most staying home while others deliberately submitted invalid ballots to protest Raisi’s candidacy in particular, as well as the broader parody of democracy.
These protests were an outgrowth not only of the MEK’s electoral boycott campaign but also of the underlying activism which highlighted Raisi’s background and labeled him the “butcher of Tehran.” In 1988, he was one of four officials to serve on the “death commission” in the nation’s capital, which oversaw the interrogation and summary execution of political detainees at Evin and Gohardasht Prisons. Those killings were the central component of a nationwide massacre that claimed upwards of 30,000 victims, most of them members of the MEK.
Raisi’s role in the attempted annihilation of that movement was undoubtedly the main reason why Khamenei appointed him to serve as head of Iran’s judiciary in the wake of a nationwide uprising at the beginning of 2018. Featuring slogans such as “death to the dictator” as part of protests that encompassed well over 100 cities and towns, that uprising went a long way toward revealing the opposition’s organizational strength and the extent of its popular support. Indeed, even the supreme leader was compelled to acknowledge in a speech that the MEK had “planned for months” to facilitate such widespread unrest, and this, in turn, prompted the regime to ramp up its efforts to suppress dissent and discourage affiliation with the Resistance movement.
Documentary: 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran and the role of Ebrahim Raisi
The January 2018 uprising ended with dozens of activists killed and thousands in prison, but this was nothing compared to the regime’s response to another, even larger uprising in November 2019. In that case, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other repressive authorities opened fire on groups of protesters almost immediately after the demonstrations began. Roughly 1,500 were killed in a matter of days, while thousands were again arrested and placed at the mercy of Raisi’s judiciary.
Far from showing any mercy, that judiciary initiated a campaign of systematic torture that carried on for months and was eventually detailed in reports by human rights organizations like Amnesty International. But despite that notoriety and despite its relevance to Raisi’s legacy as the “butcher of Tehran,” the international community offered little response to those human rights abuses. This silence helped to clear the way for the regime’s supreme leader to once against reward Raisi’s commitment to political violence by setting him up to easily walk into the presidential office and begin overseeing a more general crackdown on dissent.
That crackdown is currently reflected in the Iranian regime’s rate of executions. Already the world’s highest per capita before he took office, that rate began skyrocketing immediately after Raisi’s appointment was confirmed, and in the first half of 2022, the judiciary carried out more than twice as many killings as during the same period last year.
But the crackdown is also reflected in the regime’s foreign policy, with recent reports pointing to a surge in Iran-backed terrorism, particularly targeting the MEK and its affiliates. In July, the MEK’s headquarters in Albania, Ashraf 3, was forced to postpone a planned rally and international video conference on the prospects for regime change after Albanian authorities revealed that they had seen evidence of credible security threats rooted in Tehran.
Then, in August, the US Department of Justice unsealed its case against an IRGC operative who had attempted to recruit assassins to kill the former U.S. national security advisor John Bolton. The same operative reportedly had long-term plans to have former U.S.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo killed, as well, following threats that had previously been issued against both men.
Ebrahim Raisi had been among the purveyors of those threats and had called for Bolton, Pompeo, and others to be tried in an “Islamic court” for the 2020 drone strike that killed the IRGC-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. He suggested that if no such trial were forthcoming, adherents to the regime’s brand of Islamic fundamentalism would implement “God’s judgment” on their own.
Such threats were proven salient on August 12 when a man named Hadi Matar, who had praised the IRGC on social media, attacked and stabbed the author Salman Rushdie on stage at a literary event in New York State, apparently attempting to implement a 33-year-old fatwa in which the founder of the Iranian regime called for the author’s death.
It would be a mistake to grant Raisi a visa under any circumstances, but that mistake would be uniquely foolish if made so soon after the Rushdie attack provided a vivid reminder that Iran-backed terrorism has penetrated the borders of the United States. In the first place, his presence could serve as a source of inspiration for the regime’s agents and backers, and in the second place, it could leave the regime itself with a clear impression that the U.S. is uninterested in holding Iran’s leading officials accountable for terrorist threats and associated malign activities.