Ebrahim Raisi’s Iran was one of brutal repression

The deceased president was a vicious Islamist ideologue.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics World

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There are no doubt some who are saddened by the death of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi. Iran-backed Islamist militias, for instance, have clearly been dismayed by the news of his fatal helicopter crash on Sunday. Lebanon’s Hezbollah extended its ‘deepest condolences’ to Iran’s leaders. Hamas, the anti-Semitic terror group currently fighting Israel in Gaza, went even further to express its ‘feelings of sadness and pain’. Its leaders pledged their ‘complete solidarity’ with the Islamic Republic.

But there are many in Iran itself who will not be mourning the 63-year-old’s demise. For they knew him for what he was: a vicious Islamist tyrant.

Raisi’s political career was built on his capacity for brutal, lethal intolerance. He first came to public attention in 1985 when, as a young, ultra-conservative cleric, he was appointed as deputy prosecutor of Tehran. Within three years, he achieved notoriety as one of four members of a committee tasked with prosecuting thousands of largely political dissenters – a move that was designed to consolidate the theocrats’ triumph over the Iranian left after the 1979 revolution. Under the orders of the then-supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, Raisi’s committee sentenced thousands to death. Over the course of five months, between 5,000 and 30,000 people were interrogated, tortured and executed. Some died at the hands of firing squads, while many more were slowly and publicly hanged to death in cities and towns across Iran.

For his role on the so-called death committee, Raisi became known as the ‘butcher’. It was a sobriquet he was no doubt pleased with. On the 30th anniversary of the mass executions, Raisi described them as ‘divine punishment’ and a ‘proud achievement’ for the Islamic Republic.

His violent authoritarianism might have earned him the life-long enmity of significant sections of Iranian society, but it seems to have won him endless favour among Iran’s ruling clerics. From the 1990s onwards, he rose through the ranks of the Iranian state, before being appointed attorney general in 2014. During his two-year tenure, executions rose to levels not seen for years.

The murderous tend to rise to the top in Iran’s theocracy, and Raisi duly became head of the judiciary in 2019. That year, in response to a 50 per cent hike in fuel prices, anti-government protests erupted across Iran. Raisi played a key role in the brutal crackdown that followed. At least 1,500 protesters were shot dead by security forces, while many, many more were imprisoned, tortured and executed. It amounted to the most significant act of state violence since the massacre of 1988. And Raisi was central to both.

Given his reputation for lethal repression, Raisi’s election as president in 2021, succeeding the more moderate Hassan Rouhani, might seem surprising. But then this was an election in which the Iranian people played only a walk-on role. Iran’s theocrats, through the Guardian Council, effectively decided who was able to stand for president, weeding out any candidates who didn’t subscribe to their hardline Islamist position. As one of his nominal rivals put it, the regime had aligned ‘sun, moon and the heavens to make one particular person the president’. Little wonder the majority of Iranians didn’t bother to vote at all, with turnout reaching a record low of just 49 per cent. Raisi wasn’t so much elected as appointed president by the powers-that-be.

In power, Raisi was everything his line managers could have wished. As Iran strengthened its alliances with Moscow and Beijing, Raisi combined anti-American posturing with anti-Semitic, anti-Israel bile. In 2022, he suggested that more research needs to be undertaken to prove that the Holocaust really happened, called Israel a ‘false regime’ and declared that ‘the only solution is a Palestinian state from the river to the sea’. Needless to say, within 24 hours of Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October last year, Raisi praised the terrorists for mounting ‘a legitimate defence of the Palestinian nation’. Which is one way to describe the slaughter and rape of hundreds of civilians.

Above all, President Raisi indulged in large-scale repression, eagerly subjecting Iranians to the ever harsher dictates of an Islamist regime. In the summer of 2022, he ordered the authorities to enforce the ‘chastity and hijab’ law. He described the growing numbers of Iranian women who weren’t wearing a veil in public as the ‘corruption’ of ‘Islamic society’. A few months later, Raisi’s crackdown on hijab-less women led to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She was arrested and detained by the morality police for not wearing the veil. Three days later, she died in a hospital in Tehran.

News of Amini’s death prompted outrage across Iran. For weeks and months, young women and men from across the country gathered in the streets to burn hijabs and express their hatred of the ayatollahs. Raisi’s response was entirely in keeping with his record in every public office he had held. He cracked down hard. Hundreds were murdered by security forces. Many more were arrested, tortured and some were executed. All because they wanted more freedom. To think, speak and dress as they – and not the ayatollahs – saw fit.

Raisi was a vicious Islamist apparatchik, one all too willing to repress and murder his own people. Yet what was striking about his presidency is how little outrage it generated among Western progressive circles. They listened to his anti-Semitic spiels. They saw what he was willing to do to his own people, the lengths he was willing to go to force them to adhere to his regime’s intolerant demands. They saw those brave Iranian women and men try to stand up to the de facto Islamist dictatorship after Amini’s death in 2022. Yet aside from a few token gestures, no real solidarity was forthcoming. It’s almost as if brutal repression doesn’t count for as much, if it’s being conducted by one of the West’s implacable enemies.

As we absorb the news of the death of Ebrahim Raisi, we should remember his many victims – and the brave Iranian rebels who continue to risk it all in pursuit of a freer future.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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