By Alireza Jafarzadeh, originally published on Prolific Solutions, September 11, 2022
In August 2022, the opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) initiated and facilitated a federal complaint on behalf of several individuals who were subjected to torture or had their loved ones executed in 1988 in Iran. The lawsuit was filed against the Iranian regime’s president Ebrahim Raisi for crimes against humanity and genocide – under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act – filed in the United States district court for the southern district of New York.
In the summer of 1988, a fatwa (a religious edict) issued by the theocracy’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini, which condemned anyone who believed in the leading opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to death. The MEK believes in the separation of religion and state and considers freedom as the core of the religion, in sharp contrast to the extremist views of Khomeini. The fatwa resulted in the execution and torture of some 30,000 political prisoners, more than 90% of whom were MEK. The Death Commissions, established by the clerical regime across the country to carry out the fatwa, decided which prisoners would live and which would be killed, after interrogations lasting a few minutes. Ebrahim Raisi was a member of the Death Commission in Tehran and Karaj and was personally responsible for the executions and torture that ensued.
This federal complaint is a significant undertaking because it is the first time that a court is building a record and investigating the crimes against humanity and genocide carried out by Raisi. It is stunning that a mass murderer, who over four decades has been involved in torture, massacre, and killing, has never been held accountable anywhere in the world. Even more appalling is the fact that Raisi wants to come to the United States and the United Nations to legitimize his regime and his own murderous record.
The legal process has already started. A judge has been assigned to the case, and a date for the court hearing has been set. For this case to proceed, it requires Raisi’s presence in the United States.
Obviously, the Iranian regime will perhaps evoke the principle of diplomatic immunity, either as a head of state or as a member of the diplomatic corps for Ebrahim Raisi. But he doesn’t hold any of those two titles, because the head of the state, according to Article 113 of the Iran regime’s constitution is the Supreme Leader, which is now Ali Khamenei.
Raisi is not even a diplomat, because a diplomat is defined as either a head or a member of the diplomatic mission and Raisi doesn’t hold any of those positions.
Washington already feels the pressure from many directions. There is vocal and growing bipartisan opposition from the United States Senate, from the US House of Representatives, and from very senior prominent American officials against Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to the United States.
More significantly, the Iranian Americans have launched a multi-pronged protest campaign against Raisi’s presence and have planned for a large demonstration on September 21, in front of the United Nations to coincide with Raisi’s scheduled speech. This is expected to be the largest demonstration by Iranian Americans protesting the UN address of the officials of the clerical regime on September 21, 2022.
Since 2018, there has been a multitude of large-scale nationwide uprisings and protests with people chanting slogans against the religious dictatorship, and now chanting “Death to Khamenei, Death to Raisi.” The Iranian people who have grown poorer and are politically repressed by the regime have grown bolder in calling for the regime’s downfall. An organized opposition with MEK-affiliated Resistance Units at the forefront directs these demonstrations and ensures their continuity.
Khamenei, in a bid to maintain his grip on power, opted for further domestic repression and regional aggression, and handpicked Raisi, the henchman, to supposedly quash the revolt. After one year, Khamenei has failed as Raisi has not been able to quash protests and the regime is faced with domestic unrest, regional pushback, and international isolation.
Raisi and his cabinet of terror-sponsoring IRGC old hands have expanded the regime’s terrorist threats across the globe, even plotting to assassinate Ambassador John Bolton and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as Iranian dissidents.
As the Iran nuclear talks falter, and the regime’s aggressive stance towards the community of democratic countries translates into hostile actions against Ukraine, the West and NATO have begun to take a more serious look at how they have handled the threats emanating from this regime.
It is high time that the West supports the Iranian resistance’s calls for total political, diplomatic, and commercial isolation of this regime, and support for the Iranian people’s aspirations for fundamental democratic change in their country with the downfall of this regime by the Iranian people.
The next step in the U.S. should be to end impunity for crimes against humanity and genocide by the likes of Ebrahim Raisi and to bring him to trial instead of giving him and his regime diplomatic legitimacy. The regime has shown it only abuses the internationally recognized norms of diplomacy for spreading terrorism and increased nuclear defiance, as well as domestic repression.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of ‘The Iran Threat’ (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008).