The Amnesty International Report on the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Massacre of the Political Prisoners in Iran accuses Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, Iran’s former representative to the United Nations, of involvement in crimes against humanity for his cover-up and denial of the slaughter. Mahallati is a tenured professor in the United States.
The summer of 1988 saw the execution of about 4,000 political prisoners, members of the political-militant group People’s Mujahidin Organization (PMO) who all had already been sentenced to prison time and had spent several years behind bars. Amnesty issued at least 16 Urgent Actions mobilizing its activists to send tens of thousands of appeals to Iran’s senior government figures and its diplomats around the world, calling on the authorities to end executions of political prisoners immediately.
Mahallati was in New York then, so he must have received the first letter, which was sent 11 days before the execution of members of the leftist groups. They were hanged from Aug. 27 to Aug. 29 in Tehran. Many Iranian Americans believe that if Mahallati had used his position at the United Nations to speak the truth, instead of concealing and denying it, at least 1,000 people may have been alive today.
Once Mahallati left the world body, he started teaching at prestigious American universities as a visiting professor. Since 2007, he has been teaching is at Oberlin College as the Nancy Schrom Dye Chair of the Middle East and North African Studies.
More than 600 family members of the victims, in addition to human-rights activists, lawyers and even concerned citizens, wrote a letter of complaint to Oberlin on Oct. 8, 2020. So far, not only did the administration not answer, but college president Carmen Twillie Ambar has blocked many of these individuals on Twitter. These actions by Ambar have raised red flags.
Before moving to New York, Mahallati worked in Iran’s foreign ministry and dealt with the United Nations. In an interview, he explained that to combat the U.N. resolutions condemning Iran for human-rights violations, he suggested amending the resolution “and commenting on the same amended resolution to adjust and amend it even further to make it closer to Iran’s opinion.” Thus, instead of addressing the underlying issues of several passed resolutions condemning the Islamic Regime for discriminatory actions against minorities, the ill treatment and torture of prisoners, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and summary executions (including those of minors), Mahallati would comment on them, stalling the passage of the resolutions and watering them down.
Mahallati also falsely claimed to the United Nations that many killings had occurred on the battlefield in the context of the war, following the invasion of the Islamic Republic of Iran by PMO, and called the news of the mass executions “political propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” When the United Nations passed a resolution expressing “grave concern” about the mass executions, Mahallati called the resolution “unjust” and said “a terrorist organization based in Iraq” was the main source of the “fake information” included in it.
This massacre would have toppled any other regime, but 30 years later, because of people like Mahallati, most aspects of this atrocity are under a cloak of secrecy and obscurity. In fact, the average American most likely has never heard of this massacre.
Mahallati, who claims to be teaching peace and friendship, is the same man who concealed Iran’s crimes in the 1980s. Thirty-two years ago as an ambassador, Mahallati blamed the victims and called them monafeqin (“religious hypocrites”) or mohareb (“one who wages war against God”) to justify their killings without due process or respect for any national or international laws. Today, Mahallati uses the same tactics attacking the signatories of the letter to Oberlin, calling them “a spectrum of war-lobby protagonists.”
Let me be clear: Mahallati is an extension of an oppressive regime that stigmatizes his political opponents and uses baseless allegations to stifle their voices, imprison them, torture them and hang them.
The United States used to set up tribunals for criminals and murders. Now, however, many branches of its higher-education system receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from dubious Iranian organizations, some even under investigations by the FBI, and hire people like Mahallati. His presence at Oberlin College is a disgrace to the education system. As American citizens, we must champion an education system free of bigots, murderers and people accused of crimes against humanity. Professor Mahallati has no place in our higher education system.
Bryan E. Leib is the executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty. Previously, he served as the national director of Americans Against Antisemitism. He tweets at @Bryan_E_Leib.
Be a part of our community
JNS serves as the central hub for a thriving community of readers who appreciate the invaluable context our coverage offers on Israel and their Jewish world.
Please join our community and help support our unique brand of Jewish journalism that makes sense.