ISSN 2330-717X

Iran’s Mass Murderers Must Face Trial – OpEd

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This week the world came one step closer to holding accountable the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre of some 30,000 political prisoners in Iran. Sweden’s public prosecutors on Wednesday filed an indictment against one such perpetrator, Hamid Noury, who was arrested in November 2019 by Swedish police.

Noury is being indicted for crimes against international law i.e. “war crimes and murder.”

The 1988 massacre took place after the Iranian theocracy’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini issued a religious decree, or fatwa, ordering the execution of all affiliates of the main opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK). Death Commissions were formed in prisons all across Iran. Any prisoner who refused to renounce the MEK was immediately sent to the gallows and later buried in mass graves.

“The accused is suspected of participating, together with other perpetrators, in these mass executions and, as such, intentionally taking the lives of a large number of prisoners, who sympathised with the Mujahedin and, additionally, of subjecting prisoners to severe suffering which is deemed torture and inhuman treatment,” the Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement on Wednesday.

The trial, the first of its kind for perpetrators of crimes against international law in Iran, is a welcome development. Much like the trials of former Nazi officers who were captured decades after World War II, Europe and the United States must look to hold all perpetrators of the 1988 massacre, including key members of the Death Commissions, accountable. 

Ironically, a prominent member of the Tehran Death Commission, Ebrahim Raisi, will officially take office as Iran’s President next week. He was assured victory in the regime’s bogus Presidential ‘election’ last June, which was wildly boycotted by the Iranian people. In Iran, he is called the Supreme Leader’s selected president. His presidency is a message from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the Iranian people that any protests or dissent will result in a deadly crackdown. Of course, so far that threat has failed to dissuade the Iranian people from protesting. In the past two weeks alone, major rallies have erupted all over the country, initially over water shortage, but thereafter calling for regime change.

According to Amnesty International, instead of assuming the Presidency, Raisi should be investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture.

“We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction,” the rights group said.

Though in comparison to Raisi, Noury was a low-level perpetrator, his trial is still important to victims’ families and supporters of international justice. The case has 35 plaintiffs most of whom were Noury’s victims but who survived the 1988 massacre. They will be heard as the trial unfolds in the coming months. 

The trial in Sweden became more complicated with the investigation becoming public. Among the published evidence was the Swedish police record of Noury’s phone log which shows he had sent two emails to Iraj Mesdaghi, one of the plaintiffs, from Iran months before travelling to Sweden. This has strengthened previous suspicions of Mesdaghi’s connection with the intelligence apparatus of the Iranian regime. Police records show that during interrogation both Mesdaghi and Noury were unwilling to answer prosecutors’ question on how the emails were transferred between them. Noury refused to answer, while Mesdaghi claimed he could not remember. It is widely believed that the Iranian regime is trying to manipulate the proceedings and at the same time build credibility for Mesdaghi, which may have backfired with the exposure of the email exchange. 

Iran’s mullahs are masters of misinformation, and the onus now is on the Swedish courts not to leave any stone unturned in bringing about a solid prosecution for the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre. But Sweden shouldn’t be the sole Western state prosecuting Iranian officials under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

The 1988 massacre is, according to Amnesty International, a case of “ongoing crimes against humanity.” The man who sent thousands of innocent political prisoners to their death will take office as President of Iran next week in total impunity – so, there’s no time left to lose.

Western democracies like the US and EU states must hold Raisi to account and adopt a firm Iran policy. Meanwhile the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights needs to step in and set up an independent inquiry into the 1988 massacre. Otherwise from next week, the world will have to face off against a mass murderer leading the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism.

*Dr. Sina Dashti MD, President of the Alliance for Public Awareness (Sweden)

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