News

July 1, 2021

ّIran : RSF backs call for enquiry into Iranian President-elect’s role in 1988 massacre

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) supports a call by Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, for an international investigation into Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the massacre of thousands of political prisoners, including hundreds of journalists, in 1988, when he was a prosecutor.

In an interview for Reuters on 29 June, Rehman said he had an enough evidence to justify opening such an investigation, which RSF thinks would help to shed light on this particularly dark page in Iran’s history.


A cleric who is close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and who is to be installed as Iran’s eighth president on 3 August, Raisi has in the past been both a regular prosecutor and a special prosecutor of the court for clerics. He was also member of a feared commission, known as the “death commission,” that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appointed in 1988 to interrogate political prisoners, including journalists.


After interrogations by the commission that often lasted no more than several minutes, death sentences were passed on thousands of political prisoners who refused to renounce their beliefs. In the summer of 1988 alone, from July to September of that year, nearly 4,000 political prisoners were finally executed after previously being given death sentences.


When Raisi was appointed as head of the justice system in March 2019, RSF issued a press release drawing attention to his role in that massacre and in arrests, torture, imprisonment and execution of journalists during the 1980s.


A month before that, in February 2019, RSF revealed that it had obtained a leaked Iranian justice department digital file exposing the scale of the cover-up of decades of judicial persecution. It showed that at least 860 journalists and citizen-journalists were prosecuted, arrested, imprisoned and in some cases executed in Iran between 1979 and 2009.


The UN special rapporteur has confirmed that the evidence of Ebrahim Raisi’s role and involvement in ‘crimes against humanity’ is sufficient to open an investigation,” said Antoine Bernard, RSF’s director of advocacy and strategic litigation. “It is essential that the creation of a commission of enquiry is put on the UN Human Rights Council’s agenda and that this initiative is given as much support as possible.”


Damning reports

Although the Iranian authorities have never recognised that mass executions that took place in 1988, six UN special rapporteurs and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances published a damning report on this issue in September 2020 and called for an urgent investigation.


One of the Iranian officials allegedly involved in the 1988 executions is already in detention. It is Hamid Nouri, who held a senior position at the time at Gohardasht prison, located 50 km northwest of Tehran and now called Rajai Shahr prison. He was arrested on arrival in Stockholm on 9 November 2019 and is due to go on trial there on 10 August. The trial is expected to yield revelations about the commission’s exact role and Raisi’s involvement in the massacre.


When asked his role in these events, Raisi told journalists: “If a judge, a prosecutor has defended the security of the people, he should be praised (...) I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far.

Grim record

One of the world’s most oppressive regimes for the media, the Islamic Republic of Iran has executed more journalists than any other country in the past 50 years. The latest victim was Rouhollah Zam, the editor of the AmadNews website and Telegram channel, who was executed by hanging on 12 December 2020 after being subjected to an unfair trial under Raisi’s supervision.

Raisi (whose real name is Ebrahim Rissol Sadat) was elected as the Islamic Republic’s president on 19 June in polling marred by irregularities. The official turnout was less than 49%, the lowest in the country’s history.



Iran is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.