Last November, when Iran’s hardline president Ebrahim Raisi heard that a thick dossier of evidence against him had been handed to the Metropolitan Police in London and the Chief of Police in Scotland, he hurriedly cancelled his appearance at the COP26 Environmental Summit in Glasgow. Survivors and family members of victims of an horrific massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988, had compiled evidence of torture, genocide and crimes against humanity, which they handed to the UK police. Now that Raisi has announced his intention of attending the UN General Assembly in New York in September, the alarm bells should be ringing again. 

Raisi’s role as a deputy prosecutor during the 1988 massacre was highlighted during the recent trial in Sweden of one of his henchmen, Hamid Noury. Witnesses at Noury’s trial recounted how he had helped with the selection of prisoners who were brought before a summary court where they were asked by Raisi if they supported the main opposition organization, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran/ Mojahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK). If, during an arbitrary two-minute hearing, they answered ‘yes’, they were immediately sentenced to execution, blindfolded and led to the ‘death corridor’ by Noury, where he would order them to stand in line, sometimes for hours, before escorting them to the execution chamber, where they would be made to watch other prisoners being hanged in batches of ten, before being executed themselves. Noury often attended and actively helped to hang the prisoners. One witness survived to provide testimony because he had fainted at the sight of his fellow prisoners being hanged. Last month Noury was sentenced to life imprisonment, under the law of universal jurisdiction, in a Stockholm court.

Raisi, dubbed ‘The Butcher of Tehran’ for his lifelong role as an executioner, has even boasted of his pivotal part in the massacre. At 27, he was the youngest of 4 members of a special ‘Death Committee’ for Tehran, set up by the then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Similar committees were operating in 32 cities across Iran in 1988, following Khomeini’s ‘fatwa’ against the PMOI/MEK, whom he condemned to execution for “waging war against God.” Even pregnant women and teenagers were not spared. Raisi’s role as one of the key executioners was exposed during his campaign for the presidency in 2021. He brazenly implied that he should be applauded for killing thousands of Iranians when he said: “I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far. In the role of a prosecutor, wherever I may be, I am proud to defend the rights, security, and welfare of the people.” Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, has demanded that Raisi be investigated for “crimes against humanity” by the U.N. Human Rights Council. “The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities,” Callamard said. 

Raisi has been subject to sanctions by Washington since 2019 for ‘complicity in serious human rights violations.’ Since being manoeuvred into the presidency in a sham election in August 2021, the number of executions in Iran has skyrocketed. A year into his presidency, at least 521 prisoners have been executed, including 22 women and six minors. 71 people were hanged last month alone, two of them in public. Several medieval sentences have also been handed down, including a woman and two men who have been sentenced to be blinded. Their sentences were upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court earlier this month. Even teenagers convicted of theft in juvenile courts have been sentenced to have their fingers amputated. Raisi’s term in office has been saturated with blood and repression. There is no doubt that his reputation as a ruthless slaughterer was one of the principal reasons he was chosen as the preferred candidate for the presidency by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

When New York was agreed as the designated HQ for the United Nations in 1947, the agreement specifically obliged Washington to guarantee rights of entry, movement and residence to those invited to attend meetings of the UN. However, the US has always maintained the right to say “no” to any visitor who could be regarded as a “threat to national security,” or for “security, terrorism and foreign policy” reasons. This was why Ronald Reagan controversially banned the Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat from attending the UNGA in 1988, accusing him of supporting terrorist groups. In January 2020 the US denied a visa to the then foreign minister of Iran, Javad Zarif, to prevent him from attending a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York.

Now, with revelations that the Iranian regime had plotted to assassinate President Trump’s national security adviser – John Bolton, the issue of Raisi’s attendance at the UN General Assembly is surely no longer tenable. According to the US Department of Justice, Shahram Poursafi, an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officer, was allegedly offered $300,000 to “eliminate” Bolton. Poursafi is still at large. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said: “This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on US soil and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts.” It is thought that Tehran ordered the murder of Bolton in revenge for the drone attack in January 2020 which killed the IRGC terrorist general Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad Airport. Raisi must surely have been directly involved in such a high-level plot. 

Hundreds of Iranian/Americans gathered at a rally on Capitol Hill on 12th August to demand that Raisi should be banned from coming to New York. Their protest has been joined by several senators and congressmen who are calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to deny a visa to Raisi and his entire delegation. Hopefully President Joe Biden will rediscover his backbone and agree.