Days before Iran’s president is scheduled to attend the UN General Assembly, three former prisoners in Iran are launching a civil lawsuit against him in New York.
The hardliner president Ebrahim Raisi’s scheduled trip to the United States, together with a large entourage, has been the subject of controversy. Human rights activists, Iranian dissidents, former political prisoners and hostages in Iran have urged the Biden administration not to issue a visa to Raisi.
Raisi served as Iran’s Judiciary chief before becoming president in August 2021, but he spent most of life in the Islamic judiciary and is accused by human rights groups of taking part in gross violations of human rights. He was a member of a death committee that ordered the killing of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, an involvement he has proudly admitted.
The US sanctioned him, along with other Iranian officials in 2019 for human rights violations.
A former prisoner in Iran, Mehdi Hajati and two former hostages, Hamid Babaei and Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage for two years in Iran announced Thursday that they will launch a civil lawsuit.
The National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), an American Iranian advocacy group is assisting the plaintiffs in their legal action. NUFDI said in a statement that human rights attorney Shahin Milani will represent the three plaintiffs.
Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at the UN General Assembly in September 2005
Mehdi Hajati was an elected local official in the Iranian city of Shiraz who was sentenced to prison for his defense of the persecuted Baha’i community in 2019. Hamid Babaei, a resident of Belgium was also held hostage in Iran.
Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne was arrested on bogus charges in Iran in September 2018 and held until November 2020, when she was exchanged with Iranians jailed in Thailand on terrorism convictions. They received a hero’s welcome upon their return to Iran.
A bipartisan group of 52 US lawmakers urged President Joe Biden on September 9 to deny visas for Raisi and his delegation.
"The United States cannot overlook Ebrahim Raisi’s direct involvement in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including the 1988 organized mass murder of thousands of political prisoners, among whom were women and children, by the Iranian regime,” the lawmakers wrote to Biden.
So far the Biden Administration appears to be determined to issue the visas, arguing that it is legally obligated as host nation of the United Nations to allow officials of other government to conduct their UN business in New York.
Critics who urge a visa denial say that “As the host country for UN headquarters, the United States has a general obligation to grant visas to those conducting UN business. However, as lawmakers noted in their letters to Biden, U.S. law authorizes a denial of visas to individuals responsible for torture and extrajudicial killings.” They cite the example of Austrian President Kurt Waldheim who was denied entry into the US in 1987 for his responsibility for the persecution of Jews and others during World War II.
Iranian Americans have organized a protest outside the UN headquarters in New York City on September 21, the day Raisi is scheduled to speak at the General Assembly and at the same time NUFDI will unveil the details of the lawsuit against him.