America shouldn’t allow the Iranian killer of my husband to address UN


Thirty-four years ago, the Iranian regime systematically executed my husband and many of my dearest friends, burying them in secret mass graves. On Wednesday, the person arguably most responsible for those killings, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, is slated to speak at the UN General Assembly. Washington has given no indication it opposes the New York visit.

The mass murderer’s presence will be a terrible affront to the UN charter, whitewashing Raisi’s involvement in what may have been the late-20th century’s worst crime against humanity.

My husband, Ghasem Seifan, was one of a staggering 30,000 political prisoners massacred over the course of just three months. Roughly 90% of them were condemned to execution for supporting the leading pro-democracy opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI).

Like the others, Ghasem was not initially sentenced to death. In 1982, he and I were arrested, in the presence of our 18-month-old daughter, following a midnight raid on our home by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. I served four years; Ghasem was given a 10-year sentence.

His execution came abruptly, seven years into that sentence, after then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa declaring all MEK supporters were guilty of “enmity against God,” which carries the death penalty.

For more than three decades, I have heard stories from survivors and eyewitnesses of the 1988 massacre, which have given me a fairly clear understanding of what my husband likely faced in his final days.

The mass murderer’s presence will be a terrible affront to the UN charter, whitewashing Raisi’s involvement.
The mass murderer’s presence will be a terrible affront to the UN charter, whitewashing Raisi’s involvement.
Shutterstock / rarrarorro

He was taken before a “death commission,” perhaps several times, to answer questions about his political beliefs and affiliations — and probably nothing else. He was sent to be hanged when it became clear he stood by those beliefs and was resolved to upholding his devotion to the MEK. I am certain my friends were similarly steadfast, knowing it might cost them their lives.

Survivors’ testimony has also led me to understand Ebrahim Raisi was most likely one of the last people who saw my husband alive: Ghasem spent his last months in Gohardasht Prison, one of two major facilities under Raisi’s jurisdiction. As Tehran’s deputy prosecutor at the time of the massacre, Raisi became one of four officials to serve on the capital city’s death commission.

Countless reports agree he was uniquely dedicated to that role and helped guarantee that very few political detainees at either Gohardasht or Evin Prison survived the implementation of Khomeini’s fatwa.

The United Nations and its leading member states must understand that by granting Raisi a platform, they’ll effectively be overlooking these killings and legitimizing the position held by a man known to countless Iranians as the “Butcher of Tehran.”

Raisi continued his crimes after 1988, most significantly as head of the regime's judiciary from 2017 until his presidential appointment last year.
Raisi continued his crimes after 1988, most significantly as head of the regime’s judiciary from 2017 until his presidential appointment last year.
APAImages/Shutterstock

Raisi continued his crimes after 1988, most significantly as head of the regime’s judiciary from 2017 until his presidential appointment last year. He oversaw key aspects of the crackdown on a November 2019 nationwide uprising. Authorities killed more than 1,500 peaceful protesters, and Raisi’s judiciary followed up with a months-long campaign of torture against those arrested.

The regime’s brutality has persisted since Raisi became president. Last week, the so-called “morality police” beat to death Mahsa Amini, 22, for disobeying the regime’s discriminatory forced-veiling laws.

Such acts of brutality stand out as vivid symbols of the Iranian regime’s impunity, which was reinforced by more than three decades of relative international silence on the 1988 massacre. To the credit of Swedish authorities, that impunity faced its first major challenge in 2019 with the arrest of Hamid Noury, a former Gohardasht Prison official and Raisi collaborator. A Stockholm court sentenced him to life imprisonment for mass murder.

The United Kingdom, the United States and their mutual allies should all be willing to investigate Raisi and other known perpetrators of crimes against humanity and subject them to criminal prosecution in their own jurisdictions or at the International Criminal Court.

People protest Raisi outside the UN during the 2021 General Assembly.
People protest Raisi outside the UN during the 2021 General Assembly.
Getty Images

I and several other victims of the 1988 massacre have filed a lawsuit against Raisi in New York. If the US State Department does not see fit to block Raisi’s attendance at the UN General Assembly, then at least prosecutors can present Raisi with the civil complaint and help make sure his past crimes are not simply swept under the rug while he walks freely through New York and speaks openly to the international community.

There is much more that should be done in the future, for the sake of my late husband, his 30,000 fellow victims and the many, many thousands of families, friends and compatriots who are still crying out every day for justice.

Zahra Afshari Amin, who spent four years in prison in Iran, is a social worker in Cardiff, United Kingdom.



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