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The Butcher of Tehran

November 4, 2021

by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer

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Nicknamed the “Butcher of Tehran” or the “Hangman of Tehran,” Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, has all eyes on the Islamic regime.

“The new government in Iran—headed by the ‘Butcher from Tehran’ Raisi, and in which most of its ministers are suspected of terrorism and are on the sanctions lists throughout the world—is the extremist face of a regime that has hurt Iranian citizens for more than 40 years, funds terror and destabilizes the whole Middle East,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated in September.

The statement came in response to Raisi’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly—a diatribe against the United States and Israel, which he slandered as “the occupier Zionist regime” and “the organizer of the biggest state terrorism, whose agenda is to slaughter women and children.” The allegation—coming from the Butcher of Tehran, the world’s actual leading sponsor of terrorism—is so absurd it would be laughable, if it weren’t so tragic.

Hand-picked Victor

Acknowledged as the likely successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the next supreme leader of Iran, Raisi’s path to presidency was made straight by the man whom he serves as confidante and apprentice. Khamenei heads the committee that approves candidates for the presidential race, which made way for their pre-selected up-and-comer by allowing only four of 600 candidates to run.

Raisi won a dismal race, with the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic regime—just 48% of eligible voters. He took over 62% of the vote, and taking second place was void or blank ballots at 13%. That means nearly two-thirds of voters decided against voting for any of the official candidates, Washington DC-based Iran Times pointed out.

Eager Underling

From a young age, Raisi served the Islamic regime enthusiastically, pulling nepotistic strings to further his career. Hailing from the northeastern city of Mashhad—also Khamenei’s hometown—Raisi rode the shirttails of the supreme leader and his compatriots upward. During the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when extremist clerics overthrew the shah, 18-year-old Raisi was studying in an Islamic seminary.

The eager student was given his first post at 19 as a clerk in a court outside Tehran and was eventually promoted to chief prosecutor. He married the daughter of a prominent ayatollah (high-ranking Shiite cleric). His father-in-law’s ties to the supreme leader and their shared hometown made for warm ties—enabling Raisi, who reportedly endeared himself to his overlords by doing the regime’s dirty work, to rise through the ranks.

The 1988 Prison Massacres

In 1988, the regime launched what Amnesty International called “an act of violence unprecedented in Iranian history.” Iran instituted a five-month clean and sweep of Evin Prison in Tehran and Gohar Dasht Prison in Karaj—where Raisi was working at the time. The young prosecutor was appointed to the four-man “Death Committee,” who interrogated and then ordered the execution of an estimated thousands of political prisoners—some of them just teenagers, and many arrested for participating in nonviolent protests.

The regime without explanation emptied many of the prisoners out of their cells and lined them up for interrogation. They weren’t asked about their alleged crimes or political affiliations; the Death Committee asked questions to pinpoint the bad Muslims. Those who answered incorrectly were sent into another room to surrender their valuables and write a last will and testament. They were then reportedly hanged on a crane, six people at a time. Their bodies were then loaded into refrigerated meat trucks and dumped into mass graves.

Due to the regime’s secrecy, no one knows how many were executed. Estimates vary from 2,500 to as many as 30,000 people murdered. It’s a heinous crime for which human rights groups, survivors and bereaved families are still trying to hold the Iranian regime accountable.

Rise to Power

Evin Prison

Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who was serving as deputy supreme leader at the time of the massacre, resigned that same year. In 2016, Montazeri’s son released a tape of him deriding Raisi and the other Death Committee members at the time, warning them: “History will judge you as killers.” But today, the Butcher of Tehran appears to harbor no regret for the blood on his hands, even calling the massacre “one of the proud achievements of the system” in a 2018 speech.

Raisi’s career continued its upward trajectory over the years, being appointed in 2004 as deputy chief justice of Iran, in 2013 as chief prosecutor of the Special Clerical Court—which punishes religious dissenters and answers only to the supreme leader—and in 2014 as Iran’s attorney-general. In 2016, the supreme leader named Raisi custodian of the Imam Reza shrine in their hometown of Mashhad. Described as the “heart of Shia Iran,” the shrine boasts millions of visitors per year and is endowed with billions of dollars, of which Raisi retained control.

After an unsuccessful campaign in 2017 for president, the self-declared ayatollah (though he officially only holds the title of hojat-ol-eslam, a grade lower in clerical status) made his comeback in June, edging out blank ballots and three other competitors.

A Wrench in the International Wheel

On November 4, 2019—the 40th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis, in which terrorists took 52 Americans at the US embassy in Tehran hostage for more than a year—Washington imposed sanctions on Ayatollah Khameini and his inner circle, including Raisi. The US Treasury Department explains sanctioning Raisi “for his administrative oversight over the executions of individuals who were juveniles at the time of their crime and the torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners in Iran, including amputations.”

Now the world is watching as the extremist hardliner settles into the throne, particularly to see his effect on Washington and Europe’s desperate attempts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The last round of talks in Vienna to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal took place in June—and ground to a halt when the Butcher was elected that same month. Now the international community is waiting to see what he will bring to the negotiating table, or whether the Butcher will sit at the table at all.

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