Church House, Great Smith St., Westminster, London, SW1P 3AZ

11.00 hrs. - Thursday 27th January 2022

Last week 460 international human rights and legal experts, including a former head of the ICC, plus more than a hundred current and former UN officials, told the UN Human Rights Council that Iran's 1988 prison massacre may amount to "crimes against humanity" even "genocide". This is explosive news as perpetrators of those crimes occupy today the highest executive and judiciary posts in the country. 

Last October, together with my good friends Hossein Abedini and Tahar Boumedra, we lodged a dossier of evidence with both the Metropolitan Police and the Scottish Police, calling for the arrest of Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran, for crimes against humanity and genocide, for his involvement in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners. We held a big press conference in Glasgow and the news went viral, particularly around the Middle East. In Scotland, The Sunday Mail carried a front-page banner headline ‘ARREST THE BUTCHER’ and a huge two-page spread inside, with quotes from some of the survivors and relatives of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. 

In his role as a public prosecutor, 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 IRGC, then 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.

But when Ebrahim Raisi heard that the police in London and Scotland were actively assessing this large dossier of evidence against him, he chickened out and quickly cancelled his plans to come to Glasgow. It was a huge victory for us. Raisi was looking forward to rubbing shoulders with other leading human rights abusers, but he 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. His pariah status will now make international travel increasingly difficult for Raisi, particularly if he dares to set foot in the West.

Raisi may stubbornly have believed that he could avoid arrest by the Scottish police, but the news last November 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.

If the mullahs are counting on ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna as a blank cheque in human rights violations, they are wrong. Crimes against humanity and genocide are not prone to be wiped off the table by political or other Issues. It is time to end such impunity.

In his report to the UN General Assembly last summer, 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. In 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”. 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 and Metropolitan 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. 

In Sweden, the trial of Hamid Nouri is continuing. He was one of Raisi’s functionaries who actively participated in the 1988 hangings. Plaintiffs told the Stockholm court how Raisi would happily munch on cakes and pastries while sentencing dozens of men, pregnant women and even teenagers to death, after arbitrary 2-minute trials. The Swedish court spent a week in Albania in November taking evidence from Iranian survivors of the massacre who live in Ashraf 3, a compound near the capital Tirana. And in Belgium we are awaiting the judgment of the appeal court who heard appeals from 3 of the terrorist bombers who joined Assadollah Assadi, the so-called Iranian diplomat, in a plot to bomb the huge National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) rally in Paris in June 2018. We trust that their lengthy terms of imprisonment will be upheld. So, the theocratic regime is now facing justice in several European courts.

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 violations and genocide. The UN must launch a full investigation into these crimes and hold accountable all those involved. There must be no impunity for genocide and crimes against humanity.