Shirin Ebadi: Iran’s 2017 Presidential Hopefuls Have Unacceptable Human Rights Records
Not one of the candidates running for Iran’s presidency has an acceptable human rights record, Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) in a recent interview .
Ebadi said she was especially appalled by the candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi, who served on a committee that implemented the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
“His involvement in atrocities and the massacre of prisoners because of their political or religious views in the 1980s will not be forgotten,” said Ebadi, who defended activists and dissidents as a human rights lawyer in Iran.
“They sent waves of young people to their graves for their views against the state and would not tell their families where many of them were buried,” added Ebadi, who was forced to flee Iran in 2009 because of her profession.
On May 19, 2017, Iranians will elect their president from among six candidates: current President Hassan Rouhani; current Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri; the current custodian of the wealthy Astan Quds Razavi religious institution, Ebrahim Raisi; former vice president Mostafa Hashemitaba; the former mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf; and former Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mostafa Mirsalim.
The majority of the estimated 4,500-5000 people who were killed during the summer of 1988 were members of the opposition group, the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK).
“My husband’s brother was 17 when he sold the Mojahed newspaper at his high school,” Ebadi told CHRI. “Back then (in the early 1980s), Mojahed was a legal publication, but nevertheless he was arrested after the school principal told on him to the Intelligence Ministry.”
“He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in an unfair trial without having access to a lawyer. He was in prison for seven years and then in 1988 his family received a phone call that he had been executed, even though he had only been sentenced to prison,” said Ebadi, who was forced to leave Iran because of her occupation in 2009.
“The authorities refused to say where the young man had been buried and warned his mother not to hold a memorial ceremony,” she said. “Of course, the family did not listen and they did hold a special gathering for him. Then, a year later, the authorities identified his grave.”
The Iranian government has never acknowledged that the mass executions, mostly by hanging, took place in 1988. Many of the victims were buried or dumped in unmarked graves and many families were never told where their loved ones were buried.
In August 2016, Ahmad Montazeri, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri, posted online an audio recording of a meeting in 1988 between the ayatollah and the “Death Committee” that was appointed to question the prisoners.
Montazeri, who at the time was the heir apparent to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini–who appointed the committee–condemned the killings, telling the members of the committee in Tehran: “I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic since the  revolution and history will condemn us for it…. History will write you down as criminals.”
“Mr. Raisi was one of the officials who signed those execution orders,” Ebadi told CHRI. “He is even identified by name on Ayatollah (Hosseinali) Montazeri’s tape recording.”
The prisoners, who had already been sentenced, did not know they were facing death when they then faced the inquisition-like proceedings held by the committees, which operated in Tehran and around the country.
In Tehran, the prisoners were executed after one meeting in which members of the committee asked them questions about their religious and political beliefs.
Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her defense of human rights in Iran, also criticized President Rouhani for failing to defend human rights during his first term, which began in 2013.
“Unfortunately, the current president and the other candidates don’t have an acceptable human rights record either,” said Ebadi. “Mr. Rouhani cannot escape responsibility and blame the judiciary for the fact that the Intelligence Ministry under his administration has ordered the arrests of many journalists and civil rights activists.”
“One of them is my colleague, Narges Mohammadi, who has been in prison for many years because of charges brought by the Intelligence Ministry,” she said.
“We must not forget this and many other cases and just blame the judiciary.”
“Also, when Mr. Mirsalim was the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, he was nicknamed ’the butcher’ for banning books and newspapers,” she added. “Mr. Ghalibaf’s astronomical abuses of power are truly a shame on the Tehran municipality’s hard-working staff.”
Continued Ebadi: “People are always left to choose (a president) between bad and worse because of the Guardian Council’s strict vetting of candidates.”
The 12-man conservative Guardian Council, an unelected body in charge of vetting all presidential candidates, rejected 1630 out of the record-number of 1636 people who applied to run for president in 2017, including all female and religious minorities.