Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference in Tehran on June 21, 2021, after winning the presidential election. Photo: AFP / Shota Mizuno / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Amid a record low voter turnout and widespread reports of electoral malfeasance, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline conservative cleric and former student of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has been elected as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, an outcome that has provoked outrage and condemnation internationally.

Raisi has been described by the Center for Human Rights in Iran as “a pillar of a system that jails, tortures, and kills people for daring to criticize state policies.” Agnès Callamard, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur and the current secretary general of Amnesty International, issued equally incisive criticism against the new president.

“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran,” Callamard said.

Over the course of his 40-year career as a prominent member in Iran’s judicial and political bodies, Raisi has been directly involved in the brutal suppression of peaceful pro-democracy protesters and dissidents who have sought to challenge the Iranian regime. He is responsible for facilitating the arrests of political dissidents and for justifying the torture and imprisonment of thousands of human-rights activists, minorities, and students.

Given this history, Raisi’s abysmal human-rights record should come as no surprise. In 1988, Raisi orchestrated one of the most extreme displays of rights violations in modern times. Acting under the orders of the deputy supreme leader of Iran at the time, Hussein-Ali Montazeri, Raisi spearheaded the state-sanctioned persecution and execution of thousands of dissidents and political prisoners.

Under Raisi’s watch, security forces arbitrarily sentenced thousands of Iranians to enforced disappearance, torture, and execution. Raisi’s extrajudicial terror campaign targeted progressive political factions, student movements, and ethnic and religious minorities.

While detailed records of the victims of this purge are scarce, initial estimates from Amnesty International placed the number of executions at between 2,800 and 3,800. However, reports from Iranian defectors have led some scholars to argue that the true number of executions was more than 33,000.

Reports from detention facilities during this period reveal that Raisi was particularly ruthless when dealing with students and women. Because most members of Iran’s major student associations were supporters of a national democracy movement, Raisi sent thousands of young men and women (including several pregnant women) to the notorious Evin Prison, whereupon an untold number of student activists were tortured, raped, or executed.

Surviving accounts from these labor camps paint a horrific picture of degrading treatment of prisoners, unending psychological abuse, and callous disregard for human dignity. Raisi is believed to have personally observed the torture of several prisoners, with some reports suggesting that the current president of Iran observed the proceedings while eating from a tray of pastries.

Equally disturbing is Raisi’s long-standing role in the repression of women’s rights. During his tenure as head of Iran’s judiciary, Raisi repeatedly issued support for laws criminalizing certain sexual practices and curtailing access to contraceptives and abortion procedures.

As a cleric, Raisi’s treatment of women in Iran is similarly well documented. He has consistently promoted the enforcement of a strict interpretation of Islamic law, which in practice means that women are not allowed to work outside the home, make their own legal decisions, or choose their own husbands.

Through the lens of geopolitics, Raisi’s track record is just as appalling. At the same time, Raisi has demonstrated a knack for cravenly appeasing the West and has made a number of overtures to the US and the European Union in the hopes of improving his country’s relations with the international community.

As the international community attempts to revive and revamp a nuclear deal with Iran, Western leaders must not only ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, but also that the regime is held accountable for its abhorrent human-rights record.

Ebrahim Raisi is among the most prominent personalities in a regime that has committed, and continues to commit, serious violations of human rights. As such, Raisi’s election to the Iranian presidency is not only a threat to stability within the Middle East and the wider international community, but it is also a profound affront to the core principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Zana Ghorbani

Zana Ghorbani is a Middle East analyst and researcher specializing in Iranian affairs.