Iran’s new hardline president and his alleged human rights abuses
Jun 26, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
This Update is devoted to the selection last Friday of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s next president – in an “election” which looked rigged to virtually guarantee him victory. The former judiciary head is accused of having played a key role in a wave of summary executions of at least 4000 Iranian political prisoners in 1988, and is under US sanctions for those alleged crimes against humanity. Raisi will take office on Aug. 8, replacing current President Hassan Rouhani.
We lead with an impassioned and powerful plea from a Canada-based campaigner for democracy and human rights in Iran, Mariam Memarsadeghi. She describes in chilling detail the mass murders and torture under Raisi’s supervision in 1988, including of children; his role in subsequent massacres, and the unrepentant statements he has made taking pride in his actions. She also argues that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei engineered Raisi’s election as president – and potential future role as successor to Khamenei – in part to force the US and the West to essentially acquiesce to the regime’s vicious repression of its own people by legitimising Raisi. She calls on US President Biden not to go along with this, but keep the sanctions on Raisi. To read it all, CLICK HERE.
Next up is, Karim Sadjadpour, one of the most-renowned scholars of Iran in the US, arguing that the engineered election of Raisi may be a major turning point for the Iranian regime. He says the rigging of the election in favour of Raisi showed hubris by the regime, while the low voter turnout and reports of angry apathy among Iranians suggests a crisis of legitimacy that may send Iranians fleeing abroad or ultimately see soldiers rather than clerics ruling future generations of Iranians. Sadjadpour also discusses how Raisi’s elevation could affect Iranian foreign policy and especially negotiations to renew the JCPOA nuclear deal. For all his insights, CLICK HERE. More optimistic than Sadjadpour that the regime’s crisis of legitimacy might lead to its overthrow is another noted Iran scholar, Prof. Abbas Milani.
Finally, we have a piece quoting two expert analysts specifically on Iranian foreign policy following Raisi’s election. Strategic analyst Michael Segall says the Iranian regime has now stripped itself of any pretence or mask of moderation or deniability, sees everything as now going its way, and will increasingly be “confident, blunt and defiant.” Academic Raz Zimmt says the Iranian president plays no role in issues like the nuclear deal, but that US plans to negotiate a “longer and stronger” deal with Iran after re-entering the JCPOA are simply not going to happen. For a number of additional important points from both Segall and Zimmt, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- Washington Insitute for Near East Policy Iran expert Patrick Clawson looks at the detailed numbers from the Iranian election – and says they show not so much that Raisi won, but that Iranians have lost faith in reformers.
- A report of witnesses describing how Raisi watched as prisoners were tortured.
- Former US official John Hannah suggests ways for the US to potentially conserve some leverage over Iran if the Biden Administration is determined to rejoin the JCPOA nuclear deal.
- Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argues that a return to the JCPOA is foolish given how quickly Iran has shown it can undo its commitments under the deal any time it wants, and how much must be given to Iran to get those commitments.
- The US Government has shut down a series of Iranian state news websites – including Press TV – alleging they are deliberately spreading disinformation. Meanwhile, a new study reveals how Iran is actively interfering in British political, cultural and religious life via its disinformation networks.
- A sabotage attack on one of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities on Wednesday reportedly did considerable damage to the site – despite Iranian denials.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC’s reaction to the unanimous recommendation by the federal Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) that Australia consider listing all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
- Oved Lobel discusses evidence that Iranian regime-linked accounts spread and amplified antisemitic incitement on social media.
- A short AIJAC video on the proliferation of extreme anti-Israei incitement – including vandalism directed at Jewish institutions – in Australia over recent weeks.
Meet ‘The Butcher,’ Iran’s New President Ebrahim Raisi
In picking a mass murderer as his potential successor, Iran’s supreme leader hopes to make the United States a willing partner in the repression of his country’s people
BY MARIAM MEMARSADEGHI
Tablet, June 22, 2021
Amnesty International’s 2018 report into the secret 1988 prison massacres in Iran – which Human RIghts advocates have condemned as comparable to notorious massacres like Srebrenica and the Katyn Forest.
As the Biden administration gives every indication of removing most sanctions on the world’s top state sponsor of terror in pursuit of its nuclear deal, that regime has produced a new president personally culpable—and sanctioned by the United States—for large-scale crimes against humanity. As the handpicked sixty-year-old Ebrahim Raisi is also likely to succeed the ailing Ali Khamenei as the Islamic Republic’s next supreme leader, his deeply disquieting record and mindset warrant close attention.
Raisi became an Islamist ideologue as a teen studying in the seminary in Qom. After the revolution, when he was only 19 years old and lacking any university education, he was appointed as a prosecutor, rising over the following four decades to fill the positions of attorney general, deputy chief justice and, most recently, chief justice of Iran’s theocratic dictatorship.
Most notably, though, Raisi was one of four members of a death committee responsible for the 1988 execution of thousands of Iranian prisoners of conscience in the space of a few months. The ideologically motivated mass executions constituted both a crime against humanity and genocide—a cleansing of religious infidels—according to international human rights expert Geoffrey Robertson. It was a massacre, he says, comparable to those at Srebrenica and the Katyn Forest.
Raisi would typically spend only a few minutes with each prisoner—some young children—asking them questions to test their allegiance to radical Islam. The prisoners, mostly leftist revolutionaries who had helped bring the regime to power, typically refused to feign loyalty, even after prolonged and brutal torture, which in some cases was personally directed and overseen by Raisi. It is estimated that a minimum of a few thousand and as many as 30,000 were killed by hanging or firing squad. The massacre is still shrouded in secrecy, with the regime continuing to deny information to the families of those killed, including about the location of their loved ones’ remains.
What is known is the speed and efficiency of killing, with hangings using forklifts every half hour, and the dumping of dead bodies in piles on trucks, a method and pace that traumatized the executioners themselves. Virgins were systematically raped before their execution, to circumvent the Islamic prohibition on killing virgins and to prevent women and girls from reaching heaven. The executed were ordered to write their own names on their hands before they went to their death. The massacre is a trauma etched into the collective consciousness of all of the Iranian people, throughout the country and throughout the diaspora.
At the time, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had been designated to succeed the revolutionary leader Khomeini, condemned the mass executions in an act of dissent. In response, Khomeini rescinded Montazeri’s clerical rank, canceled his selection as the next supreme leader, and condemned him to house arrest. In Montazeri’s place, Raisi rose up.
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was once the designated successor to Khomeini. After he denounced the 1988 massacres carried out by Raisi, among others, he was stripped of his rank and later confined to house arrest until his death. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.).
To this day, Raisi is proud of his role as a dutiful mass killer. In 2017, he posted to his Telegram channel a video in which he justified the massacre, and in 2018 called it “divine punishment” and a “proud achievement” for the revolutionary regime. During his tenure as attorney general (2014-2016), executions spiked significantly compared to previous years, and during his time as judiciary chief (2019-2021), the regime shot to death at least 1,500 peaceful protestors on the streets in more than 200 cities and imprisoned, tortured, and executed countless more, in the biggest act of state violence since the 1988 prison massacre.
An ardent ideologue, Raisi believes that state violence is not only justifiable—as autocrats typically do in their commitment to regime survival or “national security”—but that it is godly. He has not only justified but exalted the Islamist theocracy’s violence by elevating it above all other violence on earth:
There are armies, soldiers, wars, etc. in all of the world, but the difference between us and them is that we are holy; our judiciary is holy and our regime is holy … There are various threats out there that want to annihilate this sanctity; defenders must ensure that this sacredness is not damaged. The prosecutor plays an important role in identifying [the threats], and in making sure that action [in facing and combating the threats] is taken in a timely and appropriate manner. We must not allow corruption to infiltrate anywhere in the country.
Historian Ladan Boroumand is an expert on the Iranian revolution and a documentarian of the Islamic Republic’s four-decades-old commitment to killing off its political opponents, including her own father, a democratic dissident who was assassinated by the regime in Paris in 1991. “Raisi considers the Islamic regime to be the embodiment in this world of God’s governance,” explains Boroumand. “Therefore, state institutions are sacred and holy and by definition unaccountable to Iranian citizens. Citizens vis-á-vis the Islamic government are like creatures facing their creator; they have no rights of their own. In this, Raisi is a faithful follower of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini. He is a proponent of Islamist totalitarianism.”
In 2019, on the 40th anniversary of when the Islamic Republic took 50 Americans hostage for 444 days, the United States sanctioned Raisi for his role on the death commission as well as for the execution of children and the repression of human rights defenders in recent years in his capacity as chief justice, and for his role in the brutal crackdown on 2009 Green Movement protestors.
The sanctions targeting Raisi were imposed as part of a set of sanctions on the supreme leader’s inner circle. More sanctions were added later on the leadership’s powerful “foundations,” which are the mafia state’s primary mechanisms for control of large swaths of the Iranian economy and illicit financing. These included one of the regime’s largest, the Astan Quds Razavi Foundation, which is directed by Raisi. This “foundation” has aided the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, making Raisi complicit in crimes against humanity in Syria.
The Trump administration, which imposed these long-justified and necessary sanctions, made clear that the sanctioned individuals and entities were designated because they had repressed and robbed the people of Iran. It cannot be overstated how profoundly this action impacted Iranians who had yearned for decades for an acknowledgement of the grotesque injustice inflicted upon their loved ones. Over 30 years after the prison massacre, Iranians saw those most responsible for the killing and torture, as well as for the confiscation of their personal and business assets, finally held accountable—even if not in a court of law, even if not in their own country, and even if the culpable continued to wield power.
Khamenei’s elevation of Raisi to his right hand is meant to spite both the Iranian public and the United States. In recent years, Iranians have been more overt and more unified than ever in their struggle for a peaceful overthrow of the corrupt theocracy that has forfeited any semblance of popular consent to its rule. In response to the so-called “election” that ultimately brought Raisi to power with a supposed 50% of the vote, they staged an unprecedented nationwide boycott. Empty polling stations were broadcast by satellite TV channels back into the country, an echo of the people’s larger campaign of “No to the Islamic Republic!”
Iranians see no prospect for reform of the rotting theocratic system that is crushing them except for its wholesale removal. Throughout the Arab world, too, people living in the Islamic Republic’s imperial dominion are taking great risks to push back against the medieval cabal that is robbing them of dignity and a future in the name of God. The new president of Iran is meant as a bulwark against these courageous aspirations, and a signal of ever-increasing determination to stifle and repress.
Khamenei knows the fury of people in Iran and the region has been fueled in great part by the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, which President Biden may soon undo—but also by the administration’s truth-telling about the brutality and corruption of regime officials. The highest humiliation for the world’s most anti-American regime, however, was the assassination of Khamenei’s favorite and most powerful loyalist, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Qassem Soleimani. Overwhelming financial pressure, scrutiny of human rights abuses and corruption, assassinations of top officials, relentless acts of espionage and sabotage (much enabled by the Israeli state’s moles at the highest ranks of the nuclear program and the IRGC), mounting dissent, and the regime’s own profound structural crises of mismanagement and incompetence have made the Islamic Republic more brittle and more vulnerable than ever.
But Biden’s Appeasement 2.0 policy has already given the regime a new lifeline, and with the selection of Raisi, Khamenei is puffing out his chest, showing that he knows that the United States has abdicated its own strong hand in favor of a losing one. The regime has studied—and sought to shape—the ideological underpinnings of the Obama/Biden outlook on the Middle East, a “realignment” toward accommodation of the regime at any cost. Emboldened by the recognition that Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Malley will stop at nothing to re-enter the nuclear deal, Khamenei feels unconstrained in choosing his potential successor and untroubled at making the American capitulation look even more desperate and devoid of morality.
The regime uses its nuclear program as a means to extort the United States so it can survive. But as much as the Obama/Biden playbook may want to keep the regime in power as a “counterbalance” in the region—a nonsensical phrase, since the “other side” being “balanced” in this formulation would be the United States and its regional allies—the regime itself knows it is in an irreparable legitimacy crisis, no matter how much the United States accommodates it. The regime knows it is structurally incapable of being accountable to the Iranian people. It knows that with its monstrous network of patronage and corruption, it is incapable of addressing the compounding existential crises that have galvanized the mostazefeen, the downtrodden in whose name the revolution was originally waged. It knows that any measure of freedom and openness it may grant to the Iranian people will only be used to press for wholesale regime change.
Khamenei is a student of the Soviet Union and the KGB. He knows how glasnostand perestroika backfired. His regime’s decay is undeniable, and the Iranian people’s determination to fight him will only grow. But he has decided the only recourse is further brutality, to which he hopes to make the United States a de facto partner.
Khamenei wants to put the United States in the debased position of not only lifting sanctions but lifting them on a president who has committed crimes against humanity. He wants to terrorize the people of Iran further and show them that they have nowhere to appeal to—and that the standard-bearers of freedom and human rights prefer to send pallets of cash to mass murderers than to support the legitimate and peaceful aspirations of ordinary Iranians. By doing so, he intends to fortify the culture of impunity he has created for his yes-men and himself. He wants to make the Iranian people lose their deep and abiding faith in the United States and give up on their dream of becoming a democracy. President Biden would be profoundly wrong to give Khamenei what he wants.
Mariam Memarsadeghi is a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Canada, and a leading advocate for a democratic Iran. Her writing has appeared in, and other publications. She is co-founder of Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society.The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Interest.
Iran Stops Pretending
The rigged “election” of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s next president has the potential to be a turning point for the country. But its significance will be fully understood only in hindsight.
For the United States, Raisi’s election, viewed through the prism of ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, heightens the Biden administration’s sense of urgency to conclude a deal before an inevitably more rigid Iranian administration is inaugurated on August 8. Although power in Iran will remain in the hands of the Supreme Leader and Revolutionary Guards, Raisi’s presidency will further complicate the Biden administration’s stated goal of negotiating a “longer and stronger” follow-on deal with Tehran.
In contrast to previous elections, when Iran would showcase to the global media its tightly controlled electoral pageantry, the few foreign journalists visiting Tehran this time reported a combination of apathy and anger. Perhaps the most authentic expression of Iranian popular indignation—familiar to anyone who has lived in Iran—was inadvertently aired by NPR, whose reporter asked an elderly woman in a Tehran park whom she favored. NPR’s translator softened her comments, claiming she said of the mullahs, “They can go to hell.” Persian speakers heard something considerably more obscene: “Fuck those mullahs. They’ve been lying to us for 40 years! I’m voting for my cock.”
Yet Raisi’s election appears unlikely to seriously jeopardize the Biden administration’s ability to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which Donald Trump exited in 2018. Because Iran’s economic decline cannot be reversed absent a removal of U.S. sanctions, it would make sense—although it is not a foregone conclusion—for Tehran to revive the deal before Raisi is inaugurated on August 8. This would allow the regime to blame the deal’s shortcomings on outgoing President Rouhani while allowing Raisi to reap the economic benefits of sanctions relief.
Beyond a return to the 2015 agreement, however, Raisi’s selection signals that Iran will resist the Biden administration’s desire to negotiate a follow-on agreement that also addresses Tehran’s missile program and regional ambitions. This could create a conundrum for Biden: If the U.S. tries to coerce Iran with new sanctions, Tehran could respond by resuming its nuclear activities and attacking—via its proxies—U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East, mindful that the Biden administration seeks to reduce America’s regional presence.
Hubris is the achilles’ heel of virtually all dictatorships; the iron will that once fueled an authoritarian regime’s consolidation of power invariably morphs into greed and entitlement. Although Khamenei’s will to stay in power remains strong, he is afflicted with a combination of insecurity and overconfidence: He was mindful enough to know that his heir apparent had no chance of winning a competitive election, yet he was confident enough to believe that he could get away with engineering his victory.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: “Afflicted with a combination of insecurity and overconfidence: He was mindful enough to know that his heir apparent had no chance of winning a competitive election, yet he was confident enough to believe that he could get away with engineering his victory.” (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Khamenei’s health—he’s 82 and widely believed to have prostate cancer—is one of Iran’s most tightly held state secrets, yet he has outlived younger men who were once thought to be his successors. Although Khamenei may want Raisi to succeed him, handovers of power in authoritarian states are inherently unpredictable. Raisi’s already limited popularity—evidenced by record-low voter turnout—will probably diminish further once he takes office and is held responsible for a broken economy that he is incapable of fixing, and political and social repression that he will intensify.
“The essence of oligarchical rule,” George Orwell wrote in 1984, “is the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors.” Modern-day Iranians are living inside the theocratic experiment of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the 1979 revolution, who believed that Islam was a cure-all and economics was “for donkeys.” Just as Khamenei was chosen to be the custodian for Khomeini’s vision, he sees in Raisi a trusted disciple to carry Khomeini’s mantle.
Every decade, a new generation of disillusioned Iranians reaches the conclusion that the Islamic Republic cannot be reformed via the ballot box. Rather than stay behind and risk their lives as dissidents, those who can afford it choose to leave. Iran’s former minister of science and technology once estimated that brain drain costs the country $150 billion annually—more than its oil revenue. Raisi’s election is a reminder that Iranians’ aspirations for a better life are at odds with a regime that currently appears unreformable and unbreakable. As long as Iran’s security forces remain united and willing to kill en masse, and Iran’s society remains disunited and unwilling to die en masse, the tipping points will continue to tip in the regime’s favor.
Karim Sadjadpour is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he focuses on Iran and U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East. He is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.
Iran’s new president likely to usher in new era of defiance and hegemony
JNS.org, June 21, 2021
In his first news conference after the election, Ebrahim Raisi took a hardline stance, foreshadowing a future Iranian posture where the regime is confident, blunt and defiant – and will not even try to appear moderate. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | License details)
In his first news conference since his victory in Friday’s election, Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi immediately adopted a defiant stance on Monday, saying, “The U.S. is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran,” adding that Iran’s foreign policy “will not be limited to the nuclear deal.”
On Sunday, the P5+1 wrapped up its sixth round of talks in Vienna over the possibility of a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and world powers in 2015.
Michael Segall, a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JNS the international community is “at a crossroads” regarding Iran and the nuclear deal.
He noted the most important issue now is that Iran “has the know-how” to go nuclear. “They have proven they are capable of reaching 60 percent and can get to weapons-grade levels.”
Segall noted that the next problem facing the international community is that now, Iran will have a president who’s not pretending to be a moderate, like Hassan Rouhani.
Iran’s entire system of rule, which includes the government, parliament (Majles) and judiciary, is now all made up of “radical conservatives.”
“There is one Iran now,” he said. “There is no mix of pragmatists, conservatives or moderates. There is only one face of Iran.”
Segall said Iran is paying attention to a changing of the guard in the United States and Israel, which has taken place as both former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been replaced by new leaders and governments.
“We will have to see how Iran sees these developments in Israel and the United States,” he said.
Meanwhile, according to Segall, Iran sees everything going its way—from wars against Israel waged by Hamas and Hezbollah to the replacement of Trump and Netanyahu. “Iran considers all these events as Divine intervention for it to fulfill its strategic goals, which is hegemony and dominance of the Middle East,” he said.
“If we add these things together,” he said, “Iran stands on a solid mound concerning its nuclear activity, ballistic-missile program, subversive activities in the region, and, of course, all this on the account of the Iranian people. They will be the ones who will pay the price for these adventures.”
The international community may believe that it is making headway in proving Iran has peaceful intentions with regard to its nuclear activity or its destabilizing activities in the region, but Raisi’s appointment will complicate things, according to Segall.
“The Iranians are no longer afraid to admit things and are not hiding behind masks,” he said. “In the past, they might have relied on plausible deniability, but no more. They are confident, blunt and defiant. And this is what we will see in the near future.”
Raisi’s “victory” comes after an election that saw poor voter turnout and blatant interference by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Guardian Council, which disqualified most of the other candidates, thereby handing Raisi his win on a silver platter.
During Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Raisi “the executioner from Tehran,” and called on the international community “to wake up and understand with whom they are dealing.”
Bennett emphasized that “a regime of executioners must not be allowed to get its hands on weapons of mass destruction. This is the position of the State of Israel,” he said.
His description of Raisi is not without basis.
Raisi is under U.S. sanctions for human-rights abuses, and Amnesty International has documented how Raisi “had been a member of the ‘death commission,’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988.”
Last week, in their fourth phone call since Israel’s new government took power, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid agreed to a request from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that there be “no surprises.”
On Monday, in reaction to this development, Netanyahu said this is a dangerous commitment that could paralyze Israeli military activity against Iran’s military nuclear program.
“I cannot think of a weaker and more emasculated message to our enemies in Iran,” he said. “I cannot think of a better gift for the ‘Executioner from Tehran.’ From now on, he and his friends in the regime know that they can sleep silently, with no surprises.”
Subterfuge can only slow down the program
Iran, however, has already experienced a number of surprises over the last few years, as it has seen dozens of mysterious fires and explosions take place at important nuclear-related facilities across the country.
Two alleged Israeli attacks on the Natanz nuclear complex, which destroyed thousands of centrifuges, as well as a number of alleged attacks on other Iranian targets were reported by Iranian media as “accidents.”
This week, the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran was shut down temporarily because of a “technical failure,” according to the Tasnim news agency.
While there is speculation that this is related to those other mysterious events, it is more likely, according to Segall, that it is related to the current high civilian demand for energy.
Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iran at the Institute for National Security Studies, told JNS “the biggest question is whether the revival of the JCPOA will be achieved before August, before Raisi enters office.”
Israeli academic expert on Iran Dr. Raz Zimmt: “If Khamenei wants to revive the JCPOA, it does not matter who the President is.”
“If Khamenei decides to agree to a deal with the P5+1, it matters little whether Rouhani or Raisi is president,” he said.
Zimmt said it may be more difficult for the international community to carry out follow-up negotiations after August when Raisi is president because of his more conservative and “hardline” position, and he could elect a more hardline foreign minister.
According to Zimmt, there are three main possible ways to delay Iran’s nuclear program. First is the JCPOA. Second, is the military option, though no one in Israel really wants that. The third, in-between option is these so-called covert activities that might slow down some of the progress and may delay the program.
“But there are two problems with this,” he said. “First, it will only delay and slow down the program; they cannot destroy the nuclear facilities. Second, this urges Iran to improve its capabilities and sometimes to retaliate. Its decision to enrich to 60 percent was made after the second attack on Natanz.”
The international community is, as Segall said, at a crossroads, and it isn’t looking good for Israel.
According to Segall, Blinken’s promise for a “longer and stronger” Iran deal “will not happen.”
With this in mind, as well as Iran’s growing defiance and confidence, is Israel preparing to take military action against Iran’s nuclear-weapons program?
Segall wouldn’t say, but he insisted that Israel “will not accept a nuclear Iran.”