Sir David Amess is MP for Southend West
For far too long, Western policies toward the Islamic Republic of Iran have been formulated without regard for the preference and perspective of the Iranian people themselves.
Making matters worse, countless Western lawmakers have embraced a false narrative of Iranian politics as defined by the conflict between “moderates” and “hardliners”. It is a narrative that the Iranian people have overwhelmingly rejected – perhaps never so loudly as in the mass uprising of November 2019, which featured residents of nearly 200 cities and towns calling out to those two factions by name, and informing them that “the game is over”.
That message was strongly reinforced when upwards of 90 percent of eligible Iranian voters chose to sit out the country’s presidential election, or deliberately cast invalid ballots, rather than lend any legitimacy to the farce.
The 18 June ‘election’ confirmed the promotion of Ebrahim Raisi from the position of judiciary chief to that of president. His inauguration is scheduled for August 5, and the international community should regard that date as a deadline for repudiation of the system that supports him with a long history of gross human rights abuses.
The day that Raisi was confirmed as president-elect, Amnesty International issued a statement which lamented that “Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture,” and noted that this is a “grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran”.
Other critics of the Iranian regime have underscored that the United Nations and its Western powers should hold Raisi accountable. Over 100 of my colleagues in Parliament have signed their names to a statement on Iran policy which affirms this responsibility, and calls for a general shift toward more assertive policies for dealing with the regime’s many malign activities.
An investigation into Raisi is a reasonable starting point for that shift, and there are a number of reasons why.
In the first place, such an investigation has been warranted for many years, but it has naturally taken on a new sense of urgency with Raisi’s appointment to the presidency. His virtually uncontested campaign was a clear signal of the regime’s ongoing commitment to supporting the legacy he secured for himself in 1988, as a member of one of the “death commissions” that were operating throughout the country at the time.
In the summer of that year, Raisi became one of four figures responsible for implementing a fatwa against political prisoners in the nation’s capital. In his religious edict, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that all organised opposition to the theocratic system was an act of “enmity against God”, and that pro-democracy activists should thus be summarily executed.
The death commissions set to work interrogating political prisoners over their past affiliations, and in the space of about three months, an estimated 30,000 activists lay dead, the vast majority of them members of the leading opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
For more than three decades afterwards, the regime tried with varying degrees of success to convince the world that the PMOI had never been a threat to its hold on power, and had no real support among the Iranian public. Nevertheless, the PMOI continued to raise its profile both domestically and throughout the world, and in January 2018, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was forced to acknowledge that it was the driving force behind an ongoing anti-government uprising.
The same was true of the following year’s even larger uprising, and close observers of Iranian affairs had no trouble concluding that when participants in that uprising rejected both “moderates” and “hardliners”, they did so in favour of the alternative government that the PMOI offers through its coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The leader of that coalition, Maryam Rajavi, has authored a 10-point plan for Iran’s future in the wake of the mullahs’ overthrow, and it is easy to see why the Iranian people have evidently embraced it. As well as calling for popular sovereignty through free and fair elections, it sets the stage for Iran’s acceptance into a community of nations that share mutual dedication to secular governance, human rights, the rule of law, and so on.
Thus, the Iran policy statement that my colleagues and I have signed, declares that that precise plan deserves the support of the UK government and the Western world as a whole.
The 10-point plan deservers our support since by backing it, we also extend our support to an Iranian population that has been deprived of it for virtually all modern history. Certainly, Western powers have been hesitant to launch a formal investigation into the 1988 massacre, and to hold the Iranian leaders accountable.
It is long past time for this hesitancy to change. Western powers must take all these steps and more, on the understanding that radical change in Iran is not only desirable but very much achievable, and they must do so before Ebrahim Raisi assumes the presidency.
In the Free Iran World Summit in support of the NCRI in July, many speakers told the event’s international audience that the Raisi era would most likely be defined by an upsurge in clashes between the public and the regime. If the international community takes the right side in those clashes, it is not too optimistic to think that the ultimate outcome could be popular overthrow of the theocratic dictatorship, and the establishment of the first truly democratic government in Iranian history.