Uniting for Freedom, Democracy & Equality

Washington, DC – NCRI Press Conference: Federal Complaint Against Ebrahim Raisi for Role in the 1988 Massacre in Iran

Washington, DC, Thursday, August 25, 2022: The National Council of Resistance of Iran – U.S. Representative Office (NCRI-US), held a press conference to present details of the complaint filed in a federal court in Manhattan against Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Iranian regime, just weeks before his trip to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

The statutory bases of the complaint and the charges against Raisi also presented. Former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey attended the conference as well as the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case, to answer questions.

A fatwa (a religious edict) issued by Ruhollah Khomeini, in the summer of 1988, resulted in some 30,000 political prisoners, more than 90% of whom were members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), being hanged, and others tortured. “Death Commissions,” established by the clerical regime across the country to carry out the fatwa, decided which prisoners would live and which would be killed, after interrogations lasting a few minutes.

Ebrahim Raisi was a member of the Death Commission in Tehran and was, therefore, personally responsible for the executions and torture that ensued. The complaint’s plaintiffs are individual political prisoners who survived the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, and the families whose loved ones were murdered.

This is the first time that a court will have the opportunity to examine allegations that the mullahs’ president committed gross violations of international human rights law, including crimes against humanity, for which he should be held accountable.

The plaintiffs are all supporters of the MEK and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). They are former political prisoners, survivors of the 1988 massacre, and families of MEK martyrs.

Former United States Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Mr. Steven M. Schneebaum, Counsel for Plaintiffs, also participated in the press conference to share professional insight on the lawsuit and the legal mechanism of the U.S. judicial system’s jurisdiction to try Ebrahim Raisi for his crimes.

A selection of the words of the conference participants is as follows:

Soona Samsami, NCRI – US Representative

Soona Samsami, NCRI - US Representative
Soona Samsami, NCRI – US Representative

Instead of hosting [Iranian regime President Ebrahim] Raisi, the United Nations must hold him accountable for crimes against humanity and genocide. Anything less would be an affront to the principles and values that the United Nations foundation and charter is founded on.

During the 1988 massacre, Ebrahim Raisi was the deputy prosecutor and a member of the Death Commission in Tehran. He was therefore personally responsible for sending thousands of the Iranian opposition MEK prisoners to the gallows in Tehran and in the city of Karaj.

As judiciary chief, Raisi personally oversaw the murder of at least 1,500 innocents crying for freedom during the November 2019 uprising.

The National Council of resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the MEK have been calling for justice since the early days of the massacre in 1988. This campaign for justice will continue for accountability of Raisi and until the regime is overthrown, and democracy and freedom are established in Iran.

Michael Mukasey, Former United States Attorney General

Michael Mukasey, Former United States Attorney General
Michael Mukasey, Former United States Attorney General

Today we have occasion to mark yet another landmark milestone of sorts in the long career of Ebrahim Raisi, the filing of a complaint by some of the victims and relatives of the victims of the campaign of torture and execution that he helped carry out in Iran in 1988.

Raisi here has been sued as an individual but the acts he committed were committed in his official capacity as someone exercising powers given to him by the government of Iran, indeed powers he exercised in carrying out that 1988 fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini himself.

Raisi has not denied his participation, and in 2018 he was quoted as saying that the murders committed at the direction of the Death Commissions were “one of the proud achievements of the system.”

Diplomatic immunity does not mean diplomatic impunity. Even diplomatic immunity has its limits.

Basic instinct in civilized societies that says people credibly accused of doing what Raisi stands accused of doing should at least have a record made of their deeds and ideally be made to confront and respond to that record. It’s important to build that record in as many jurisdictions as possible.

Sheila Neinavaie, Former Political Prisoner

Sheila Neinavaie, Former Political Prisoner
Sheila Neinavaie, Former Political Prisoner

I was arrested three times and spent a total of eight years in various Iranian prisons. I was first arrested in November 1981, by the Iranian regime security forces when I was barely 15 years old at my home in Tehran, and taken to the notorious Evin prison, simply for distributing the literature of the main Iranian opposition movement, the MEK.

On August 15, 1988, I was taken to the “death corridor,” and appeared before the Death Commission in Evin, where I sat in a single chair in front of the four-member committee, one of which was the current president of the regime, Ebrahim Raisi

I was among the very few survivors. After returning to my solitary confinement, I realized that most of the people I knew in the prison had been hanged, and the prison, which was full when I entered it, seemed deserted and empty.

When I was escaping Iran, I felt the responsibility of echoing the voice of my fellow cellmates, and those who did not survive.

What I saw and experienced still wakes me up at night and flashbacks brings tears to my eyes. Now, every time I hear the name of Ebrahim Raisi, I totally forget about myself and remember the pregnant women who I saw being beaten, or children as young as two-years-old running around and looking for their mothers or crying because they were hungry. I remember the innocent faces of young girls who never made it out of prison.

Ahmad Hassani, A Member of the Martyrs Families of the 1988 Massacre

Ahmad Hassani, A Member of the Victims Families of the 1988 Massacre
Ahmad Hassani, A Member of the Victims Families of the 1988 Massacre

My brother, Mahmoud, born in Iran in 1960, was a student of Tehran University when arrested in 1981 at the age of 21, and was sentenced to ten years in prison for expressing support for the main Iranian opposition group, the MEK.

While in prison, he was tortured and abused physically and mentally.

In 1988 we were hoping that he would be released soon, since he had already served seven years of his sentence. But we were shocked to find out that he had been hanged during the 1988 massacre, like 30,000 others, after refusing to renounce his support for the MEK and the ideal of Iran’s freedom before the Death Commission.

Raisi is directly and personally responsible for the execution of my brother because he was a member of the Death Commission in Tehran, which ordered the execution of political prisoners in Evin Prison and Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, west of the capital.

I join the tens of thousands of families of the victims and those who survived the massacre to demand accountability. The United Nations must launch an investigation into this manifest case of crime against humanity. Raisi, and the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, must be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Steven M. Schneebaum, Counsel for Plaintiffs

Steven M. Schneebaum, Counsel for Plaintiffs
Steven M. Schneebaum, Counsel for Plaintiffs

It is beyond doubt that thousands of political prisoners were killed in Iran, and countless others were tortured, in the summer of 1988. This was, of course, no random act: it was the direct result of a fatwa – a religious order – of the Ayatollah Khomeini, intended to eliminate opponents of his theocratic rule, and especially, supporters of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, the MEK.

The massacre has been reported on and denounced by Amnesty International, by various agencies of the United Nations, and by our own Department of State.

It is beyond doubt that in his capacity as Deputy State Prosecutor for Tehran Province, Ebrahim Raisi was a member of the Death Commission. He has on his hands the blood of those who were killed, as well as of those who somehow escaped death, only to be tortured. And he has never been held accountable for his involvement in that massacre. This lawsuit is an attempt to do just that. It is filed against Raisi individually – not against the regime, although we all know that it has amply earned its official designation by the U.S. Government as “a state sponsor of terrorism.”

The plaintiffs in this case are survivors of the massacre, and family members of some of the men and women who were murdered. They are now citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland. They have harrowing stories to tell, and this lawsuit will allow them to tell those stories in a court of law.

The plaintiffs allege that Raisi was personally responsible for committing a number of offenses under international law, and that he is therefore personally liable to his victims and their survivors. These violations include torture, extrajudicial killings, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Although all of those are criminal offenses, this is not a criminal prosecution; it is a civil case, initiated by the victims against the perpetrator of unjustifiable acts.

Raisi is not a diplomat, and is not eligible for the privileges extended under the Vienna Convention. Nor is he, in fact, a head of state. Although he carries the title of President, it is the Supreme Leader who is the head of state of the Islamic Republic, as the country’s own Constitution makes clear. So we believe that his immunity argument will fail.

Assuming that Ebrahim Raisi does attend the UN session this fall, he will be the only person in the room who is required by law to answer charges that he himself was responsible for horrific human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.

Whether or not it ultimately proceeds to trial, through the filing of this case the plaintiffs have already won some measure of vindication. They have invoked the rule of law, and they have invited their tormentor to respond to their charges in a court of law.

For a crime of this magnitude, there has to this date been no justice. This lawsuit in the United States, brought by these plaintiffs against this defendant, to be heard by a United States federal judge, is a small step toward that goal. My clients hope that it will be some solace to others around the world who were, or whose loved ones were, victims of the regime’s lawlessness, crimes against humanity, and terrorism, to know that, here in America, the rule of law is still alive and well, and that no one, no matter his title, stands above it.