Online Panel Discussion, "Implications of Ebrahim Raisi's Death in Iran, and for European Policy".



When Ebrahim Raisi, the ‘Butcher of Tehran’, was killed in a Bell 212 helicopter, as it crashed into a mountainside in Northern Iran on 19 May, it was a fittingly fiery end to a murderous career. Ironically, the US-made helicopter was built in 1979, the year of the revolution that brought the theocratic regime to power. The fireball that eliminated the Iranian president Raisi, his foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and several others, may prove to have been an ominous signpost for the looming end of the mullahs’ 45-year tyranny. The Iranian people have suffered under many tyrants dating back to the Shah and his brutal Savak secret police. However, Ebrahim Raisi surely deserves his place in the monsters’ hall of fame.

Poorly educated, Raisi had neither academic, nor religious standing. Aged 63, he was a callous thug and mass murderer turned religious fanatic. He joined the clerical regime’s judiciary as assistant prosecutor in Karaj (West of Tehran) when he was only 19 years old. He never studied law, but his loyalty and ruthless enthusiasm for crushing opponents of the fundamentalist regime was his ticket to fame and fortune.  He became the prosecutor of the revolutionary court of Karaj when he was just 20.

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, 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, paving his pathway to the presidency as the ultimate, bloodstained hardliner. He has openly boasted about his role in executing tens of thousands of political prisoners, claiming that he should be praised for “defending the security of the people.”

Following the murder in custody by the so-called morality police of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in 2022, the event that triggered mass nationwide protests, Raisi ordered a savage crackdown by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – the regime’s Gestapo, and their paramilitary Basij thugs, which led to the deaths of more than 750 mostly young demonstrators and over 30,000 arrests. Under Raisi’s watch, many of the detainees have been tortured, raped and executed. He also instructed the morality police to double-down on their patrols and arrests. Raisi was placed on the US Treasury blacklist on 10th November 2019, for serial human rights violations. Since then, as president, he directed the execution of over 2,000 people, many of them young protesters detained during the nationwide uprising in 2022/23. Last year alone, Raisi presided over the hanging of 864 men and women, a 48% increase on 2022. 

As president, Raisi also clearly authorised the attempted assassination of Alejo Vidal Quadras, the senior Spanish politician and former vice president of the European Parliament. On November 9th last year, a hit man attempted to assassinate Dr Vidal Quadras as he strolled outside his home in Madrid. He was shot in the face but miraculously survived. It is remarkable and shocking that against this background, the EU proffered its condolences for Raisi’s death. President of the EU Council – Charles Michel said on X (formally known as Twitter): “The EU expresses its sincere condolences for the death of President Raisi and Foreign Minister Abdollahian, as well as other members of their delegation and crew in a helicopter accident. Our thoughts go to the families.” His expression of grief was quickly followed by Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security who said: “The EU offers its condolences after the tragic helicopter crash on Sunday. The EU expresses its sympathies to the families of all the victims and to the Iranian citizens affected.” 

Civil servants in the UK foreign office drew up a letter of condolence, but ministers refused to sign it. Tom Tugendhat, Minister of State for Security, attacked the EU for offering their condolences and said: “President Raisi’s regime has murdered thousands at home, and targeted people here in Britain and across Europe. I will not mourn him.” For the EU to offer condolences to this murderous executioner, rather than to his tens of thousands of innocent victims, was an abject betrayal of the Iranian population and their courageous resistance units who are campaigning for freedom and the overthrow of the theocratic regime. Sadly, Charles Michel and Josep Borrell were not alone in their rush to offer sympathy to the gangster regime. The UN Security Council disgracefully stood for a minutes’ silence in tribute to Raisi, while Matthew Miller, a US State Department spokesperson offered “official condolences” on behalf of the Biden administration. More predictable were the expressions of profound grief from the Iranian regime’s despotic allies such as China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Venezuela.

As president, Raisi oversaw the arming and financing of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal civil war in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Indeed, Raisi helped to plan the deadly Hamas attack on Israel on 7th October which triggered the ongoing war in Gaza. He also oversaw the missile and drone barrage on Israel which ended the shadow war between the two arch enemies and threatened a full-scale regional war. Raisi was tipped to take over as Supreme Leader from the ailing 85-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His untimely end will at least have spared the world from this dreadful fate. As president of a pariah regime that sponsors international terrorism and is guilty of human rights abuse and crimes against humanity domestically, Raisi’s death should be fêted rather than grieved. Western powers must show their support for the Iranian people, rather than their corrupt and merciless oppressors.