When Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian president, heard that the police in Scotland were actively assessing a large dossier of evidence against him, he quickly cancelled his plans to attend the COP26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow. Raisi, who was looking forward to rubbing shoulders with other leading human rights abusers like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, could have faced arrest under universal jurisdiction, which enables a state to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where the alleged crime was committed and regardless of the accused’s nationality. Raisi may stubbornly have believed that he could claim diplomatic immunity to avoid arrest by the Scottish police, but the news last week that the International Criminal Court in the Hague (ICC) had launched a full probe into Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, for his involvement in crimes against humanity and murder, sent shockwaves to Tehran. Duterte’s extra-judicial killings in his so-called ‘war on drugs’ may now lead to his indictment, arrest and appearance in the ICC as a serving president, paving the way for a similar indictment against Raisi. 

Raisi may also have thought that if he had reached the confines of the COP26 summit venue in Glasgow, he would have been untouchable, as everything inside the security cordon of the venue will be controlled entirely by UN security, as it is a United Nations conference. He would have been gravely mistaken. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has himself issued a damning report on the grave human rights violations that have occurred in Iran in which he has expressed his concern over impunity from past violations such as the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. Guterres has accused the Iranian regime of “destroying evidence of the execution of political dissidents at that time (1988) and the harassment and criminal prosecution of families of victims calling for truth and accountability.” The UN Secretary-General could have ordered the arrest of Raisi. His pariah status will now make international travel increasingly difficult for Raisi, particularly if he dares to set foot in the West.

Raisi’s nickname as ‘The Butcher of Tehran’ was well earned. As Deputy Prosecutor in Tehran in 1988 he was he was one of four individuals whom the then Supreme Leader, the psychotic Ruhollah Khomeini, appointed to a ‘death commission’, to carry out his infamous fatwa to massacre supporters of the opposition People’s Mojahedin of Iran/Mojahedin e-Khalq (PMOI/MEK). During that massacre, 30,000 political prisoners were summarily executed within a few months. For his zeal as a merciless executioner, he was promoted to the position of Tehran Prosecutor in 1989 and held that position for five years. In 2012 he became Deputy Head of the Judiciary and then Judiciary Chief in March 2019.  Since then, he has directed the execution of 251 people in 2019, 267 people in 2020, and scores of executions so far in 2021. Raisi often supervised the torture of men and women and then witnessed their hanging. He was head of the judiciary when orders were given to shoot dead protesters during a nationwide uprising in Iran in November 2019. Over 1,500 were killed and thousands injured. Many of the injured were dragged from their hospital beds by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), imprisoned and tortured. Several were subsequently executed on Raisi’s orders. Raisi was placed on the US Treasury blacklist on 10th November 2019, for these and other serial human rights violations.

In his report of 16 July 2021 to the UN General Assembly, Professor Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, raised concerns regarding the destruction of evidence of the extrajudicial executions that took place in 1988. On 4 August this year, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, called for an “international investigation” into the 1988 massacre, stating that “The Working Group reiterates the concerns expressed about the ongoing concealment of burial sites across the country. The Working Group recalls that an enforced disappearance continues until the fate and whereabouts of the individuals concerned are established.” Now Agnès Callamard, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, has called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity and for his involvement in murder, enforced disappearance and torture.

The dossier delivered to the Scottish police made grim reading. It was co-signed by five Iranian-British dual-nationality plaintiffs and gave detailed information on how they, or their relatives or cellmates, were “subjected to the crime of torture and extra-judicial executions on a large scale”. In their testimonies, they described how in the summer of 1988, they were taken to Gohardasht Prison, where, in a two or three-minute hearing, they were confronted by Raisi, in his role as a public prosecutor and asked if they continued to support the PMOI/MEK. If they answered “Yes” they and hundreds of others were lined up in a corridor, sometimes for hours, then taken in groups into an execution chamber where they were forced to watch other prisoners being hanged, before being executed themselves. One survived to provide testimony because he had fainted at the sight of his fellow prisoners being hanged. A similar prosecution under universal jurisdiction is currently underway in Sweden, where one of Raisi’s functionaries, Hamid Noury, has been charged for his involvement in the same massacre, where it is alleged he helped with the selection of prisoners and then attended and participated in their execution. 

The news that Raisi has chickened out of attending the Glasgow conference is a victory for those who cherish freedom, democracy and human rights. There is no place for a genocidal murderer like Raisi in any civilized nation. It is essential now that Police Scotland should seek the prosecution of Ebrahim Raisi and pass their findings to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. There must be no impunity for mass murderers like this man. 

We must send the clearest possible message to Ebrahim Raisi. His crimes will not be forgotten or forgiven. His victims and their families demand justice. He will be held to account for crimes against humanity, murder, human rights violation and genocide.