Ebrahim Raisi, the henchman of the 1988 massacre

US officials should seize Raisi’s death to address Iran’s worsening human rights record

By Ivan Sasha Sheehan, Originally published in Stars and Stripes, May 21, 2024

With the untimely death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the so-called “Butcher of Tehran,” and the country’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, in a helicopter crash in an eastern province of Iran near Azerbaijan earlier this week, U.S. officials would be wise to take stock of Tehran’s escalating human rights abuses and the rising discontent on the Iranian street.

On April 13, the Islamic Republic launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel. Iranian forces subsequently seized a commercial vessel in the Persian Gulf based on the vague pretense that it had connections to the Jewish state. On the same day, the regime initiated a fresh crackdown on dissent and dramatically stepped up the public harassment of women deemed to be in violation of the mullahs’ strict Islamic dress code.

The simultaneous actions demonstrate how Tehran leverages malign activities to further its strategic interests by using attacks on Israel as cover for and distraction from domestic repression intended to suppress democratic mobilization. Efforts to crush pro-democracy forces have been evolving ever since Iranian activists staged nationwide protests in September 2022.

Although Iranian authorities killed 750 protesters within the first several weeks of that rebellion and arrested another 30,000, the unrest persisted for months and the ripple effects continue to this day.

At least nine participants in that uprising have been executed to date, and dozens of others have been sentenced to death or indicted on charges that could carry the death penalty. The fundamentalist regime has evidently been hesitant to implement these sentences as rapidly as it might have under other circumstances, fearing persistent international scrutiny and the threat of expanded unrest. But in lieu of those plainly political executions, authorities have overseen a dramatic overall surge in the rate of executions for all manner of crimes, especially those that do not rise to international standards of “most serious.”

Over the course of last year, more than 860 people were executed. So far this year, 245 more death sentences have been carried out, with nearly half of them coming over the past month. At the same time, the regime has been letting slip its prior reticence to stoke backlash by killing inmates for reasons purely related to their affiliations and political expression. READ MORE

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