The US State Department listed Soleimani as an international terrorist. As the de-facto second in command of Iran’s military hierarchy, he was responsible for thousands of deaths of Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese people as well as US military personnel.
He controlled the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, a vicious military unit responsible for extra-territorial operations. Soleimani was answerable only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and, as such, was described by many as the second most powerful person in the Islamic Republic.
As Quds Force commander, he oversaw the theocratic regime’s proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, where he commanded Iraqi militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).
The Iranian ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, has now submitted a call for the UN to hold the US to account for the drone attack at Baghdad Airport, ordered by President Donald Trump, that also killed PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and his bodyguards.
Trump described Soleimani as “the world’s top terrorist” who “should have been terminated long ago”. In a televised speech on January 3, to commemorate the second anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi called for Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior American officials to face justice, saying they must suffer “qisas”, the Islamic term for retaliation in kind. Raisi threatened revenge if Trump and Pompeo were not punished.
The irony of the threats and intimidation from the Iranian mullahs and, in particular, from their president, Ebrahim Raisi, has surely not been lost on Western commentators.
Raisi is known as “the Butcher of Tehran” for his involvement in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners and for ordering the shoot-to-kill policy that led to the deaths of 1,500 mostly young, civilian protesters, during a nationwide uprising in 2019.
He is under investigation by the UN for crimes against humanity and genocide and has been singled out for criticism by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and by Amnesty International and other leading human rights organisations.
A dossier of evidence, submitted to British police by survivors of the 1988 massacre, led to calls for Raisi’s arrest if he attempted to attend the COP26 climate change summit in Scotland last November. The Iranian president remained in Tehran and sent a delegation to the summit in Glasgow in his place.
Meanwhile, the trial in Sweden of Hamid Noury, 60, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity has entered its sixth month and will continue until at least April.
Noury was assistant to the deputy prosecutor in Gohardasht prison near Tehran during the 1988 massacre. Witnesses have told the Stockholm court that Noury would call out the names of prisoners who were to be hanged during the mass executions.
He would then play an active part in the execution of these political prisoners, most of whom were supporters of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran/Mojahedin e-Khalq (PMOI/MEK). Witnesses have also pointed to Raisi’s role in the massacre, stating that he was one of the judges who sentenced young men, pregnant women and even teenagers to death after perfunctory three-minute trials.
In an unprecedented move, the Swedish Court relocated to Durrës Province in Albania for ten days in November to hear evidence from key witnesses to the killings who now live in Ashraf 3, a large compound occupied by members of the PMOI/MEK. Six Swedish judges, two prosecutors and Noury’s lawyer heard evidence from the witnesses from November 10 to 19.
Noury’s trial comes in the wake of the sentencing to 20 years’ imprisonment in Belgium of Assadollah Assadi, a registered Iranian diplomat from their embassy in Vienna. Assadi was convicted for his part in a plot to bomb a major Iranian opposition rally in Paris in the summer of 2018.
His three co-conspirators have appealed against their lengthy prison terms and a ruling on their convictions will be made shortly. Assadi did not appeal, substantiating his guilt and the clear involvement of the Iranian regime in the terrorist bomb plot.
It is against this background that attempts by the mullahs to demand UN involvement in punitive action against the United States must be judged. Noam Chomsky famously said: “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”
This is clearly the view of the mullahs. Chomsky’s message should resonate in the West, where there are still many who would seek to appease the theocratic regime and resurrect the defunct and redundant Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
The cornerstones of democracy, such as freedom of speech, freedom of information, genuine elections, a free press, organised opposition parties and an independent judiciary are all absent in the theocratic dictatorship that is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his acolytes have dispensed with these conventions and replaced them with Velayat-e Faqih, or the guardianship of the jurists, giving ultimate authority to the mullahs.
Under this tyrannical system they will do whatever it takes to cling to power, increasing repression, accelerating plans to build a nuclear weapon and spreading their version of Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East. There is no advantage for the West in trying to negotiate with or appease this regime. To do so would be to betray the Iranian population who want an end to the mullahs and an end to corruption and oppression.
Struan Stevenson is coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change, chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association