For the second time since he became president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi has been forced to cancel a visit to Europe due to widespread protests and a demand for his arrest under the law of universal jurisdiction. Dubbed ‘The Butcher of Tehran’ for his direct involvement in the execution of political prisoners in an infamous 1988 massacre, Raisi was forced to pull out of a planned visit to Geneva where he had hoped to address the UN Global Refugee Forum, which began on Dec. 13. Raisi was one of the members of a series of Death Committees, set up by the then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Under a fatwa issued by Khomeini, the death committees were ordered to execute more than 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, most of them members and supporters of the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran/Mojahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK).
The Refugee Forum is held every four years, with the aim of helping to resolve some of the pressures placed on host countries by large influxes of refugees. It is a disheartening irony that the UN invited Raisi to this conference, given his background as a warmongering murderer, whose regime has fanned the flames of conflict in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, financing, arming and training Hezbollah and Hamas, and causing the very refugee crisis that the UN Refugee Forum seeks to resolve. However, the news of Raisi’s invitation to the event caused global outrage, especially among the Iranian diaspora, and supporters of the Iranian Resistance held protest rallies in many cities around the world, calling for the withdrawal of his invitation to the meeting. They also filed a complaint with the Swiss police calling for his arrest over his role in the execution of dissidents.
It is the second time a similar protest has forced Raisi to cancel a proposed trip to Europe. In 2021, he had announced his intention to attend the COP 26 global environmental summit in Glasgow. The clerical regime called off Raisi’s visit to Scotland, after a petition signed by human rights activists was submitted to the then Chief Constable of Police Scotland – Iain Livingstone, urging the opening of a criminal investigation based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, focusing on allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity. Simultaneously, a corresponding petition was handed to the Metropolitan Police in London. When Raisi heard that a formal request had been made to the Metropolitan Police and the Scottish Police to have him arrested if he set foot in the UK, he quickly chickened out. Raisi realized that, unlike his predecessors, he was unable to travel freely to the West, or indeed to any civilized nation, due to his pariah status as a murderer.
A similar petition was handed to the Swiss police this week and on Dec. 12, despite pouring rain and freezing temperatures, thousands of ex-pat Iranians gathered in Geneva to call for Raisi’s arrest and for the Iranian regime’s expulsion from the UN. Three PMOI supporters, who were political prisoners at the time of the 1988 executions, filed a legal complaint with the Swiss authorities calling on Switzerland’s federal public prosecutor – Andreas Muller, to secure the arrest and prosecution of Raisi “over his participation in acts of genocide, torture, extrajudicial executions and other crimes against humanity.” One of the plaintiffs stressed that Raisi had personally told him that “his death sentence was assured,” after he said that he was a supporter of the PMOI.
At the same time, an open letter was sent to Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, denouncing Raisi’s attendance at the UN refugee forum. The letter, co-signed by 453 former world leaders, judges, Nobel laureates, UN officials, human rights and legal experts, and NGOs, denounced Raisi’s planned participation in the 2023 Global Refugee Forum in Geneva. The letter reiterated Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacre, as well as his involvement in the killing of 1,500 protesters during mass demonstrations in 2019, 750 protesters in the nationwide uprising in 2022, and the recent spike in executions in Iran, that have included at least 212 hangings in the past two months alone. The letter also warned that under Raisi, the Iranian government has also engaged in a new scheme to suppress and intimidate members of the PMOI outside of Iran by holding show trials in absentia “and thus extending suppression beyond its borders.”
Raisi’s fears of arrest in Europe are not ungrounded. Last year, a Swedish court, citing universal jurisdiction, sentenced Hamid Noury, a former prison guard and an aide to Raisi in Gohardasht prison in the city of Karaj, to life in prison for his role in the 1988 massacre. After enjoying decades of impunity for their crimes, the Iranian regime’s leaders are now facing the reality of being held accountable. Wherever regime leaders go, members of the Iranian Resistance and survivors of the regime’s massacres and atrocities, together with the families of the regime’s victims, will make sure that they will be made to answer for their crimes.
The condemnation of Raisi gained additional traction with a legal complaint lodged with the Swiss Federal Public Prosecutor. Despite facing no fewer than 70 UN censures since 1981, the regime persists in maintaining the worst record of human rights abuses domestically. It continues to engage in global terrorism and regional warfare to fortify its grip on power. Following the publication of Amnesty International’s latest report on torture, cruelty, sexual assault and arbitrary executions in Iran, Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnés Callamard has called on states “to initiate criminal investigations in their own countries against suspected perpetrators under the principle of universal jurisdiction, with a view to issuing international arrest warrants.” It looks as if Ebrahim Raisi’s future travel plans will have to be severely curtailed.