As each presidential election in Iran has approached, the American media have been quick to suggest that particular year’s candidate was a moderate, raising hopes that relations between the U.S. and Iran could be improved.
There should be no doubt that this year’s “frontrunner,” Ebrahim Raisi, is a devoted hardliner and Islamist extremist to which prior candidates pale in comparison.
The media has never been right with its optimistic takes, as every Iranian leader marched to the tune of the country’s religious zealot Supreme Leader – whether it was the previous one, Ruhollah Khomeini, or the current one, Ali Khamenei. It was the Supreme Leader who always selected the presidential candidate to run, and unsurprisingly would always win, office.
It was natural that Khamenei selected Raisi as he comes with blood on his hands – and a lot of it.
In 1988, Khomeini issued a fatwa (a ruling on a point of Islamic law by a recognized authority) calling for the execution of between 5,000 to 30,000 political prisoners who had refused to support his regime and were being held in prisons across the country. Most of them were members of an opposition group known by two names: the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK). As Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor at the time, Raisi was a member of the Central Committee of the “Death Commissions” which oversaw the executions. He and his fellow executioners would not even allow time for the prisoners to say goodbye to loved ones as they were quickly marched out to the killing fields.
There were a few people in the Iranian government courageous enough to condemn the Death Commissions for their outrageous acts. One was Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was slated to succeed Khomeini as Supreme Leader until he opposed the executions. An August 15, 1988, tape recording of Montazeri meeting with Raisi and other committee members, released 28 years later, is revealing. Initially trying to buy more time for the condemned, Montazeri argued that, since it was the Islamic holy month of Muharram, the executions should be halted. Montazeri’s request fell on deaf ears. He warned Raisi, “In my view, the biggest crime in the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed at your hands and they’ll write your names as criminals.”
While Raisi and his fellow murderers have largely been able to escape accountability for over three decades, the international community is finally looking to expose the massacre of these prisoners to the light of day. On May 5, 2021, over 150 former United Nations officials and renowned legal experts signed off on an open letter to that body’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, demanding an international Commission of Inquiry to investigate the 1988 massacre.
It is telling that current Supreme Leader Khamenei would have the audacity, with such a cloud of an investigation over Raisi’s head, to select him to run for the presidency. It demonstrates he has no concerns about the fate that befell those prisoners nor for what the international community might think about Iran putting a mass murderer into office. It is also indicative of a fear he has that the Iranian people, who know the election is a sham, will rise up against the regime.
Khamenei selected Raisi for two reasons:
- As he has blood on his hands, Raisi has everything to lose should the mullahs be overthrown. That will motivate him to do Khamenei’s bidding, no matter what cost has to be extracted from the people.
- Khamenei sends the message to his people, who are well aware of Raisi’s brutality, that challenging the results of the 2021 presidential election will not end well for them. The Iranian chief of police has warned the public that action will be taken against anyone calling for a boycott of the election.
The survivors of the PMOI/MEK, who escaped Iran after the massacre and now operate out of Paris, have encouraged their fellow Iranians to boycott the 2021 election to avoid giving a sham election credibility. There is good reason to do so. As if Raisi’s election was not already a “slam dunk,” the Council of Guardians – responsible for interpreting Iran’s constitution, supervising elections, and approving candidates – recently disqualified many of the original 592 candidates running for office. This should come as no surprise as the Council’s members are selected by Khamenei, who is seeking to narrow the field as much as possible to support a Raisi win. The people are already demonstrating against a sham election in which they know the winner has been preordained.
As if it is needed, another good reason for boycotting the election is to protest the fact Iranian leaders, during a time of immense economic hardship for the country, have reportedly embezzled $23 billion redirecting it from its intended destination, the “private sector,” to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC is a separate military force, extremely loyal to the Supreme Leader, that has set up private companies to receive funding from the religious leader while doing his bidding for him.
The mullahs’ brutality against their people continues unabated by what the world community may think. More protests by the people will only bring more victims. Last November alone, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran – of which PMOI/MEK is a member – 1500 protesters were killed with no shame evidenced by the murdering mullahs of Iran.
It is time for Montazeri’s prophecy to come true, with help from the international community, to ensure history condemns Raisi, the man who will be president, and the others involved as the criminals they really are.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama, and the first Gulf war. He is the author of Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields, Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty and Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking. He is a senior analyst for Ravenna Associates, a corporate strategic communications company, who frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.