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Iran: Ebrahim Raisi's death must not rob his victims of right to justice

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As a member of the 1988 ‘death commission’ he ordered the execution of thousands of prisoners, and as president oversaw the lethal crackdown on women’s rights protesters

Under Raisi’s watch as head of the judiciary and then president, the Iranian authorities executed at least 2,462 people

‘His death must not rob his victims and their families of their right to truth, and to see all others complicit in his crimes held to account’ - Diana Eltahawy

The death of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi must not deny people in Iran their right to truth and justice for a litany of crimes under international law committed during his time in the higher echelons of power, said Amnesty International.

According to Iranian state media, Raisi died on 19 May when his helicopter crashed in the Varzeghan region of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, with everyone on board - including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amirabdollahian and the helicopter’s crew - reportedly killed. 

Over the past 44 years, Raisi was directly involved in or oversaw the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial execution of thousands of political dissidents in the 1980s, the unlawful killing, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture of thousands of protesters, and the persecution of women and girls defying compulsory veiling, among other serious human rights violations.

In 1988, Raisi was a member of the “death commission” which carried out the disappearance and extrajudicial execution of several thousand political dissidents in Evin prison in Tehran and Gohardasht prison in Alborz province. Since then, survivors and victims’ families have been cruelly denied justice and faced persecution for seeking accountability. In 2018, Raisi publicly defended the mass killings, describing the massacres as “one of the proud achievements of the [Islamic Republic] system”. In a November 2018 report, Amnesty called for Raisi to be criminally investigated over the massacres.

Over the decades when Raisi held multiple judicial positions, including as the head of the judiciary from 2019 to 2021, Iran’s judiciary was a key driver of human rights violations and crimes under international law in Iran, subjecting tens of thousands of people to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, grossly unfair trials, and punishments violating the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, such as flogging, amputation and stoning. Under Raisi’s watch, the judiciary also granted blanket impunity to government officials and security forces suspected of criminal responsibility for unlawfully killing hundreds of men, women and children, and subjecting thousands of protesters to mass arbitrary arrest during and in the aftermath of the nationwide protests of November 2019.

In 2022, as Iran’s president and chair of the Supreme Council of National Security during the “Woman Life Freedom” uprising, Raisi praised and oversaw the violent crackdown by the security forces, which saw the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters and bystanders, and injuries to thousands of others, as well as the torture and other ill-treatment - including rape and other forms of sexual violence - of arrested protesters.  

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said: 

“Ebrahim Raisi should have been criminally investigated, including for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, while he was alive. 

“Raisi’s legacy serves as a stark reminder of the crisis of impunity in Iran where those reasonably suspected of crimes under international law not only evade responsibility, but are rewarded with praise and high-ranking positions within the Islamic Republic’s machinery of repression.

“His death must not rob his victims and their families of their right to truth, and to see all others complicit in his crimes held to account.

“The international community must act now to establish pathways to accountability for victims of crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations committed by Ebrahim Raisi and other Iranian officials.”

‘War on drugs’ executions

Following Raisi’s rise to the presidency in 2021, he and other top Iranian officials called for an increased use of the death penalty in a renewed “war on drugs”. Since then, executions in Iran have risen sharply, culminating in the execution of at least 853 people last year. The horrific rise in executions is largely due to a return to a lethal anti-narcotics policy which, last year, saw the authorities carry out at least 481 drug-related executions. In December 2022, the government submitted a bill to parliament based on Raisi’s instructions which will expand the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences if passed into law. This January, a parliamentary commission approved the general principles of the bill. Under Raisi’s watch as both head of the judiciary and then president, the Iranian authorities executed at least 2,462 people. 

Assault on women’s rights

In 2022, Raisi orchestrated stricter enforcement of Iran’s compulsory veiling laws, culminating in the death in custody of Mahsa/Zhina Amini in September and sparking the “Woman Life Freedom” uprising and subsequent deadly crackdown. Since the uprising, the Iranian authorities, under the presidency of Raisi and various executive bodies which operated under him, have persecuted women and girls in a violent campaign of oppression to enforce the degrading and discriminatory veiling laws. Since last month, the Iranian authorities have further intensified their violent enforcement of compulsory veiling with the implementation of a new nationwide campaign called the “Noor Plan”. In recent weeks, there has been a visible increase of security patrols in public spaces enforcing compulsory veiling through surveillance of women’s hair, bodies and clothing. Disturbing videos have emerged on social media showing the security forces assaulting women and girls, with some being arrested and violently dragged into police vans while screaming in protest. 

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