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Iran’s new president may face trial for 1988 summary executions

A human rights expert has called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of of political prisoners in Iran in 1988 and the role played by President Ebrahim Raisi. 

Javaid Rehman, the UN investigator on human rights, said on Monday that he believes it is ‘very important’ to investigate what happened in 1988 now that Raisi, 60, has become the Iranian president after a landslide victory earlier this month.

Ebrahim Raisi is known as ‘the butcher’ for executing thousands of opposition prisoners in 1988 while serving as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor and allegedly ordering pregnant women tortured.

It is estimated that between 4,000 and 30,000 people were condemned to death by then-supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini in two separate waves, while Raisi was on a four-man ‘death commission’ that oversaw the executions.

Rehman’s office has gathered testimonies and evidence over the years and is ready to share them if the UN’s Human Rights Council or another body sets up an impartial investigation.

He said: ‘I think it is time and it’s very important now that Mr. Raisi is the president (-elect) that we start investigating what happened in 1988 and the role of individuals.’ 

Rehman, who teaches Islamic law and international law in London, said he is concerned at reports that some ‘mass graves’ are being destroyed as part of a continuing cover-up. 

He continued: ‘We have made communications to the Islamic Republic of Iran because we have concerns that there is again a policy to actually destroy the graves or there may be some activity to destroy evidence of mass graves.’ 

The scholar insisted that a probe is in the interest of Iran and could bring closure to families. 

He said: ‘Otherwise we will have very serious concerns about this president and the role, the reported role, he has played historically in those executions.’

‘I will campaign for justice to be done,’ he added.

More than 150 former United Nations officials, human rights authorities and legal experts have demanded that the UN open an inquiry into the killings they say ‘may amount to crimes against humanity’.

Iran’s new president is under US sanctions over what the United States and activists say was his involvement as one of four judges who oversaw the 1988 killings. 

Amnesty International has put the number executed at some 5,000, but said in a 2018 report that ‘the real number could be higher’. 

When asked about executions after his election win, Raisi said: ‘If a judge, a prosecutor, has defended the security of the people, he should be praised. I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far.’

Iran has never acknowledged that mass executions took place under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolutionary leader who died in 1989.

‘The scale of executions that we hear imply that it was a part of a policy that was being pursued… It was not just one person,’ Rehman said. 

He also said that there had also been ‘no proper investigation’ into the killing of protesters in November 2019, the bloodiest political unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

‘Even by conservative estimates we can say that more than 300 people were killed arbitrarily, extrajudicially, and nobody has been held accountable and no compensation,’ he said.

‘There is a widespread and systemic impunity in the country for gross violations of human rights, both historically in the past as well as in the present.’  

Raisi secured victory in a landslide election marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.

Raisi will be Iran’s eighth president taking over from Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has served the maximum of two consecutive four-year-terms, on August 3.

Raisi will take over as the country looks to salvage its nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from the US sanctions which have contributed towards an economic downturn.

Human rights expert Rehman denounced what he called ‘deliberate and manipulative strategies adopted to exclude moderate candidates and to ensure the success of a particular candidate’.

‘There were arrests, journalists were stopped from asking specific questions about the background of the presidential candidate Mr Raisi and there was intimidation towards any issues that were raised about his previous role and background.’

His comments come after more than 150 former UN officials, campaigners and legal experts have said Raisi should face an international inquiry over the massacre.

Tahar Boumedra, of the Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran campaign group, said: ‘The massacre is an ongoing crime against humanity. 

‘The families of the victims continue to receive heavy sentences simply for asking the authorities where their loved ones have been buried. It’s time the UN conducts its own investigation into these mass executions.’

Agnes Callamard, of Amnesty International, 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.’

Iranian political prisoners who were interrogated, tortured and sentenced to die by Raisi have recently told of their horrifying experiences. 

Source: Daily Mail

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