Position at the time of 1988 massacre: Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor; member of “Death Commission” in Tehran
Present post and occupation: Head of the Judiciary and soon-to-be President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
A.K.A. Seyyed Ebrahim Rais al-Sadati (A.K.A. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, Ibrahim Raeessi and Ebrahim Raeesi)
[UPDATED: June 2021]
At the time of the 1988 mass executions, he headed the revolutionary court dealing with political prisoners. Allegedly, he instructed the arrests, torture, and execution of members of political groups.
Raisi was more recently head of Qods Razavi Endowment Foundation, President of the Governing Board of the Fifth Assembly of Experts, and member of the State Expediency Discernment Council.
He was a Presidential candidate in 2017.
Raisi’s campaign in the weeks leading to the May 2017 election continuously sent out messages via the social network Telegram defending the 1988 massacre.
With Raisi standing by his side, Yasser Mousavi, the Friday prayers’ leader in Varamin, said at a Raisi campaign rally on 12 May 2017: “This grand figure standing next to me is proud to have executed the members of the PMOI”.
While Raisi lost the 2017 Presidential election to Hassan Rouhani, he went on to become Iran’s Judiciary Chief in 2019, and he won the Presidency in 2021.
Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacre
Ebrahim Raisi was a member of the Death Commission in Tehran in 1988. Along with Hossein Ali Nayyeri, the Sharia judge; Morteza Eshraqi, Tehran Prosecutor; Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, Deputy Minister of Intelligence; and several other clerics such as Ali Mobasheri, Mohammad Moghiseh, Ismail Shushtari, and Ali Razini, Raisi directed and supervised the summary execution of thousands of members and supporters of the PMOI in Evin and Gohardasht prisons after hearings that lasted just 2-3 minutes. They were members of the Central Committee of the Death Commissions, which oversaw the 1988 massacre. Khomeini commissioned this committee to execute all political prisoners who remained steadfast in their positions. The prisoners appeared in front of the Death Committee, and their death sentences were issued in minutes.
Ebrahim Raisi is named as a member of the 1988 Death Commission responsible for thousands of political executions in the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran on 14 August 2017 to the UN General Assembly. The report stated:
11. During the period of candidate registration, a total of 1,636 individuals, including 137 women, submitted their names as candidates for president. However, in April, the Guardian Council, a body of six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader that oversees the electoral process and vets the candidates, announced that the candidatures of only six men (0.37 per cent of the applicants) had been approved. Among them was Ebrahim Raisi, who reportedly had served on a committee that had ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
74. In August 2016, an audio recording of a meeting held in 1988 between high-level State officials and clerics was published. The recording revealed the names of the officials who had carried out and defended the executions, including the current Minister of Justice, a current high court judge, and the head of one of the largest religious foundations in the country and candidate in the May presidential elections. Following the publication of the audio recording, some clerical authorities and the chief of the judiciary admitted that the executions had taken place and, in some instances, defended them.
[NOTE: The reference to the “head of one of the largest religious foundations in the country and candidate in the May presidential elections” is to Ebrahim Raisi who in 2017 headed the Astan Quds Razavi foundation and was the leading contender in the Presidential election.]
Montazeri audio file: Evidence that Raisi was part of the 1988 Death Commissions
The audio recording referred to in the UN Special Rapporteur’s report is of a meeting on 15 August 1988 between Iran’s then-Deputy Supreme Leader Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri (an opponent of the 1988 massacre) and members of the Tehran Death Commission – Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, Ebrahim Raisi, Morteza Eshraqi, and Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi – at Ayatollah Montazeri’s home in Qom. On tape, the Death Commission members are heard appealing to Ayatollah Montazeri to give his blessing for them to carry out the execution of another 200 political prisoners. During that conversation, Montazeri strongly criticized the executions and told Raisi and the three others, “In my opinion, the biggest crime of the Islamic Republic and one that history will condemn us for, has been perpetrated at your hands and it will register your name as criminals, no doubt about it.” Raisi’s voice can be clearly heard on the audio file, while the tape reveals that Montazeri was directly addressing Raisi at various points during the meeting.
Another piece of evidence of Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacre is a letter, dated 15 August 1988, from Ayatollah Montazeri to members of the Tehran Death Commission. This letter is specifically addressed to Ebrahim Raisi and three other key members of the Death Committee (Nayyeri, Eshraqi, and Pour-Mohammadi.)
Ebrahim Raisi defends his role in the 1988 massacre
Ebrahim Raisi has sought to trivialize the 1988 massacre by demonizing the execution victims and diverting attention from the unjust proceedings that led to their executions. Raisi was quoted by the state-run ISNA news agency on 1 May 2018 as saying that the circumstances of those executed during the massacre was analogous to the situation of “several thousand drug traffickers today whose sentences have been finalized but a decision has not yet been made to have them carried out.”
In a lecture on 1 May 2018, referring to media reports about his role in the 1988 massacre, Raisi used the word “confrontation” to describe the mass killings which he regarded as “one of the proud achievements of the system” while praising Khomeini as a “national hero”.
Defending the massacre and even insisting he be praised for his role, Raisi said on 9 December 2018:
“The champion of fighting hypocrisy [the regime’s derogatory term to describe the PMOI] in this country is Imam Khomeini. All those who have faced off against hypocrisy in this country should be encouraged.”
According to the state-run Mehr news agency, on 10 June 2020, Raisi said:
“One day I went to see Khomeini with three or four friends to present a report on some of these files. When we came out, we felt that … the Imam is more radical than us. We went to say that we are doing these things … (and were worried that) the Imam may say that we are overdoing it. We saw that the Imam was many steps ahead of us, and not only encouraged us but also said that you should follow this work more seriously, not only in Tehran but also in other provinces.”
Most recently, on 21 June 2021, in his first press conference after being declared the winner of the Presidential election, Raisi was asked by a reporter for Al Jazeera English about his role in the 1988 massacre. In response, Raisi defended his actions, stating:
“I’ve always defended people’s rights. Human rights have been the most pivotal element of all of my responsibilities. We should say to those who make accusations: Today we are the ones who should be making claims as those who speak up for human rights. Everything I’ve done in my time of holding office has been to defend human rights.
“In the face of those who disrupted people’s rights and engaged in Daeshi [ISIS-type] and anti-security moves, in the judiciary as a legal expert and as a judge, I have always stood up for people’s rights and defended human rights.
“If a legal expert, a judge or a prosecutor has defended the rights of people and the security of the society, he must be lauded and encouraged for preserving the security of people against assaults and threats.
“I am proud that in my role as a prosecutor wherever I was I have always defended people’s rights, security, and tranquility.
“Today in the Presidency, I have a responsibility to defend human rights.”
Ebrahim Raisi on sanctions list
On 4 November 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action against Ebrahim Raisi. A Treasury press release said:
“Prior to Raisi’s appointment as head of the Judiciary, he served as prosecutor general of Tehran between 1989 and 1994, first deputy head of the judiciary from 2004 to 2014, and Iran’s prosecutor general from 2014 to 2016. Raisi was involved in the regime’s brutal crackdown on Iran’s Green Movement protests that followed the chaotic and disorderly 2009 election. Previously, as deputy prosecutor general of Tehran, Raisi participated in a so-called “death commission” that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.”
Timeline of Ebrahim Raisi’s rise to power
Ebrahim Raisi was born in the city of Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi province, Iran, in 1959.
He was 18 years old during the 1979 revolution. Despite lacking a university degree or theological qualifications, he was quickly assigned to various judicial positions.
- 1979: Raisi trained under the supervision of Mohammad Hosseini Beheshti, who was the new Islamic government’s Judiciary Chief in 1980-81, and he was one of 70 clerical students selected to participate in courses on governance and policy in the new regime.
- 1980: Raisi was sent to Masjed-e-Soleiman to suppress growing discontent and antigovernment protests.
- 1980: At age 20, Raisi became the district attorney of the city of Karaj. After a few months, he was promoted to Prosecutor of Karaj.
- 1982: Raisi was appointed as the Prosecutor of Hamedan while retaining his position as Prosecutor of Karaj. He served in both positions until 1983. In this period, mass executions of opposition forces, especially the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI), were carried out with Raisi serving a pivotal role in these two provinces to suppress opposition movements.
- 1985: He was appointed as Deputy Prosecutor-General of Tehran. Raisi oversaw the “Grouplets Division” of the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office. The role of this division was to root out the MEK and other opposition forces.
- 1988: In the summer and autumn of 1988, Raisi was a member of the Tehran Death Commission in Evin and Gohardasht prisons. In the Death Commission, although Morteza Eshraqi held the post of Prosecutor with Raisi acting as his deputy, according to eye-witness reports and extensive investigations, Raisi actually played the role of Prosecutor. He served as Khomeini’s fixer and received special missions from the Supreme Leader to carry out purges in other provinces, including Lorestan, Kermanshah and Semnan. Khomeini had given Raisi, and Hossein Ali Nayyeri, head of the Tehran Death Commission, full authority, and they were not obliged to obey any administrative or governmental restrictions or orders.
- 1989: After Khomeini’s death, Raisi was appointed as Tehran Prosecutor by order of Mohammad Yazdi, the head of the Judiciary, and held this position for five years from 1989 to 1994.
- 1994 to 2004: Raisi was the head of the Inspector General’s Organization for ten years.
- 1997: Raisi became a member of the Central Council of the Society of Militant Clergy.
- 1999: Raisi became a member of the Special Committee to Investigate the University of Tehran Events.
- 2004 to 2014: Raisi was the First Deputy Chief of the Judiciary for ten years.
- 2006: Raisi became a member in the Assembly of Experts as a representative of South Khorasan Province. In 2008, he was elected as a member of the Presidium of the Assembly of Experts. In 2011, his membership was extended for another five years.
- 2011: Raisi was appointed as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Executive Headquarters of the Imam’s Order (a.k.a. Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order or EIKO) for 10 years by Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
- 2012: Raisi was appointed by Khamenei as the Attorney General of the Special Clerical Court, as position he still holds.
- 2014-2015: Raisi was Attorney General of Iran.
- 2016: After the death of the cleric Abbas Vaez Tabasi, Khamenei appointed Raisi as head of Astan Quds Razavi, a multibillion-dollar religious foundation that manages donations to the Iman Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad.
- 2017: Raisi participated in the presidential election as a candidate from Khamenei’s faction and lost to Hassan Rouhani.
- August 2017: Khamenei appointed Raisi as a member of the Expediency Council.
- March 2019: Khamenei appointed Raisi as Judiciary Chief of Iran, a position he still holds. He has not resigned from this position, even during his candidacy for the June 2021 presidential election.
- November 2019: Under Raisi’s control, the Iranian Judiciary had an instrumental role in suppressing antigovernment protesters. In subsequent months, the Judiciary handed down and implement death sentence for peaceful protesters.
- June 2021: Raisi took part in Iran’s Presidential election, widely believed to be rigged. With all serious challengers having been barred by the Guardian Council from standing, Raisi easily won the poll. He will officially take over as President in August 2021.