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Nasrin Sotoudeh: Investigate Iranian Presidential Hopeful Ebrahim Raisi for 1988 Mass Executions

Nasrin Sotoudeh


CHRI -
 Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer and former political prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh has strongly criticized the candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi in Iran's May 19, 2017 presidential election.


"The competency of this candidate should not be approved for any reason until the events of 1988 are investigated and it is proven that he was not an accomplice," she told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). "In the meantime, we do have an audio file... that shows he did have a hand in those events."

In 1988, Raisi was part of a four-man commission, later known as the "death committee," that implemented the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners.

The victims, who had already been tried and were serving prison sentences, did not know they were facing death when they then faced the inquisition-like proceedings.

At that time, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was the heir apparent to the Islamic Republic's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, condemned the killings, telling members of the committee: "I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic since the [1979] revolution and history will condemn us for it.... History will write you down as criminals."

Montazeri's son, Ahmad, released the taped recording of that conversation in an audio file posted online in August 2016, bringing the massacre to the forefront of public memory.

That month he was sentenced to six years in prison by the Special Court for the Clergy for releasing the audio file.

While he did not personally prosecute Ahmad Montazeri, Raisi was the chief prosecutor of the court at the time of Montazeri's conviction.

"When you add it all up, [Raisi's] resume looks very bad... If the veracity of existing evidence is not discredited and his innocence is not proven, we cannot pretend nothing happened and allow this man to be a candidate for president," Sotoudeh told CHRI.

Raisi and the Special Court for the Clergy

Iran's Special Court for the Clergy has proven to be "much tougher" in politically motivated cases compared to the Revolutionary Court, and blatantly violates human rights' standards, Sotoudeh, who has defended countless political activists, told CHRI.

"Naturally, the work of this court is on Mr. Raisi's resume—

the kind of work that he has been able to do, hidden in the dark, away from the public eye," she said.

"No lawyer has ever come forward to criticize and review the rulings by this court because essentially no independent lawyer has ever been present at its proceedings," she added.

Sotoudeh was a leading member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center when she was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2011 for her peaceful defense of human rights in Iran.

"The Special Court for the Clergy is much worse than the Revolutionary Court in violating legal tenants," she told CHRI. "Deliberations in the Special Court for the Clergy are often behind closed doors."

"At least in the Revolutionary Courts, thanks to 40 years of constant efforts by human rights activists, families can attend trial sessions and follow up on the cases against their loved ones," she said. "But you can't do any of that in the Special Court for the Clergy."

"The families face a lot of severe restrictions when they have to deal with this court and they often don't have any access to what's going on," she added.

After spending almost three years in prison, Sotoudeh was released on September 18, 2013.

"Only certain types of lawyers are accepted by the Special Court for the Clergy," said Sotoudeh. "They have to be a member of the [Muslim Shia] clergy and are hand-picked by the court itself."

"The rulings made by the court have been issued behind closed-doors and defendants are usually handed stiff sentences, such as those against Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi, and most recently Ahmad Montazeri," she added.

Sotoudeh continued: "This is Mr. Raisi's resume. Now there is also the issue of what he did in the 1980s, which he has never wanted to address. But after the release of Mr. Montazeri's recording, Mr. Raisi came out and defended his actions and didn't deny his role in any way."

In an April 2017 interview with CHRI, Ahmad Montazeri also strongly criticized Raisi's presidential bid.

"(Raisi's) direct and undeniable participation in the massacres in the summer of 1988 is very important," he said. "If any of the candidates had attacked a person with a knife, he would have had a criminal record and would not get clearance from the authorities, never mind Mr. Raisi, whose record is very clear."

Ahmad Montazeri also told CHRI he is waiting to release more recordings.

"When the conditions are right and the people in charge of the country are more tolerant, the rest of the audio files will be published," he said. "Already a lot of transparency has been achieved (with the release of the first file)."

Ahmad Montazeri was detained on February 21, 2017 to begin serving his six-year prison sentence, but was granted furlough (temporary leave) and released the next day.