Frontrunner Ebrahim Raisi unfit for Iran leadership over role in 1988 massacres

Former inmates claim judiciary chief approved death warrants for paralysed and tortured prisoners

A worker prepares a campaign banner of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi at a print shop in the Iranian capital Tehran on June 7, 2021. Iranians are set to elect a successor to President Hassan Rouhani on June 18 amid widespread discontent over a deep economic and social crisis caused by the reimposition of crippling sanctions after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal. / AFP / ATTA KENARE
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The ultra-conservative front runner in Iran's presidential election is unfit to take power because of his enthusiastic leadership of the 1988 Iran prison massacres that killed about 5,000 regime opponents, former inmates said on Tuesday.

Ebrahim Raisi, 60, the head of the judiciary and a former leading member of the so-called "death committees", signed off on the executions of an inmate arrested at the age of 13 and another who was paralysed, former prisoners said.

Nasrollah Marandi, who lost five family members for supporting the dissident MeK group, said of Mr Raisi: “He is a criminal involved in the 1988 massacre of prisoners and in the years before and after.

“Raisi should not be able to travel to other countries because of his role in genocide ... he should not be in a position as a head of government.”

Days after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, former Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini signed a death warrant for thousands of prisoners linked to the opposition.

Within weeks, up to 5,000 had been killed, according to a 2011 report by prominent human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson.

The executions focused on supporters of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, who backed the overthrow of the shah but then became the enemy of the regime after hundreds of its members were killed at a 1981 opposition rally.

Three-man committees identified thousands of dissidents in its prisons and ordered the deaths of those who failed tests of loyalty to the regime.

Their bodies were doused with disinfectant and buried at night in clandestine mass graves. Their families learnt of their fate only months later, when they were handed a plastic bag of their loved ones' possessions.

Six former inmates on Tuesday said they had witnessed Mr Raisi operating in Iranian prisons during the massacres in 32 cities. One witness spoke of how Mr Raisi was present when prisoners were hauled on ropes and hanged from a crane.

Former inmate Farideh Goodarzi said Mr Raisi accompanied a group of guards who snatched her month-old baby, who was born in jail. One guard dropped the baby on the floor as part of a campaign of psychological torture, she said.

“We will not forgive and we will not forget until we bring Raisi to trial,” Ms Goodarzi told an online event organised by exiled opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which includes the MeK.

Another witness said Mr Raisi ordered the death of a man who was blinded in prisoner torture sessions. Mr Raisi put in the “utmost effort to execute everyone”, said former inmate Mahmoud Royaee. “He didn’t have mercy on anyone.”

Despite his links to thousands of deaths, polls make Mr Raisi the clear frontrunner for the vote on June 18 after Iran's election watchdog barred leading moderate candidates.

The seven-man race to replace Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who beat conservative opponents to win two presidential terms, is dominated by hardliners.

Mr Raisi's relations with governments outside Iran are likely to be strained should he win the election. The UN has threatened to open a commission of inquiry into the massacres and the key players involved.