The events leading up to Raisi’s election were some of the most blatant acts of government manipulation in Iran’s history.
Mere weeks before the polls opened in late June, the regime’s Guardian Council, the regulatory body under the direct control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, swiftly disqualified hundreds of presidential hopefuls including many reformist candidates that had been growing in popularity among the public.
Being the regime insider that he is, as well as a close ally of Supreme Leader Khamenei, it was hardly a surprise the government took measures to insure Raisi’s victory. What is slightly more surprising is the extent to which Ebrahim Raisi has participated in nearly every atrocity committed by the Islamic Republic over the past four decades.
Raisi has been long known, both in Iran and internationally, as a brutal hardliner. Raisi’s career has been essentially wielding the power of Iran’s judiciary in order to facilitate the Ayatollah’s worst possible human rights violations.
The newly installed president became part and parcel of the Revolutionary government shortly following its inception. After participating in the 1979 coup that overthrew the shah, Raisi, the sion of a prestigious clerical family and learned in Islamist jurisprudence, was appointed the new regimes court system. While still a young man, Raisi held several prominent judicial positions throughout the country. By the late 1980’s Raisi, still a young man, became the assistant prosecutor for the country’s capital Tehran.
In those days, the revolutions leader Ruhollah Khomeini and his henchmen were faced with a population still full of shah supporters, secularists, and other political factions opposed to the regime. Thus, the years in the roles of municipal and regional prosecutors offered Raisi ample experience in repressing political dissidents. The challenge of the regime in crushing its opponents reached its peak during the later years of the Iran – Iraq War, a conflict that put tremendous strain on the fledgling Iranian government, and nearly drained the state of all its resources. It was this backdrop that led to the greatest and most well known of Raisi’s human rights crimes, the event that has come to be known as the 1988 Massacre.
In the summer of 1988, Khomeini sent a secret cable to a number of top officials ordering the execution of political prisoners being held throughout the country. Ebrahim Raisi, at this time already the assistant prosecutor for the country’s capital Tehran, was appointed to the four man panel that issued the execution orders. According to international human rights groups, Khomeini’s order, executed by Raisi and his colleagues, led to the deaths of thousands of prisoners in a matter of weeks. Some Iranian sources place the total death toll at as many as 30,000.
But Raisi’s history of brutality didn’t end with the 1988 killings. Indeed, Raisi has had consistent involvement in every major regime crackdown on its citizens in the three decades since.
After years of occupying prosecutorial posts. Raisi ended up in senior positions in the judiciary branch, eventually landing the job of Chief Justice, the top authority of the entire judicial system. Under Raisi’s leadership, the court system became a regular tool of cruelty and oppression. Almost unimaginable violence was used as a matter of course when interrogating political prisoners. The recent account of Farideh Goudarzi, a former anti-regime activist serves as a chilling example.
For her political activities, Goudarzi was arrested by regime authorities and taken to northwest Iran’s Hamedan Prison. “I was pregnant at the time of arrest,” relates Goudarzi, “and had a short time left before delivery of my baby. Despite my conditions, they took me to the torture room right after my arrest,” she said. “It was a dark room with a bench in the middle and a variety of electric cables for beating prisoners. There were about seven or eight torturers. One of the people who was present during my torture was Ebrahim Raisi, then chief Prosecutor of Hamedan and one of the members of the Death Committee in the 1988 massacre.”
In recent years, Raisi has had a hand in crushing the widespread anti-regime activism that have arisen in his country. The 2019 protest movement which saw mass demonstrations across Iran, was met with fierce opposition by the regime. When the protests began, Raisi had just begun his stint as Chief Justice. The uprising was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his methods for political repression. The judiciary gave security forces carte blanche authority to put down demonstrations. Over the course of roughly four months, some 1,500 Iranians were killed while protesting their government, all at the behest of Supreme Leader Khamenei and facilitated by Raisi’s judiciary apparatus.
The persistent demands of Iranians for justice have at best been ignored. Activists who attempt to hold Iranian officials accountable are to this day persecuted by the regime.
The U.K. based Amnesty International has recently called for a complete investigation into the crimes of Ebrahim Raisi, stating that the man’s status as president cannot exempt him from justice. With Iran today at the center of international politics, it is crucial the true nature of Iran’s top official is fully recognized for what it is.