Tehran, Iran – Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi has for the first time addressed his links with the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 when he was deputy prosecutor of Tehran.
Rights groups maintain that, shortly after the eight-year Iran-Iraq war ended, Raisi was one of the members of a so-called “death commission” that ordered the disappearance and execution of thousands of prisoners.
Many were reportedly members of the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK), an organisation pushing for regime change that is now based in Europe, which at the time led a military assault on Iranian soil despite the fact a United Nations-brokered ceasefire had taken hold.
Asked by Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig about the executions at a press conference on Monday, Raisi did not directly confirm or deny the allegations.
“Everything I’ve done in my time of holding office has been to defend human rights,” the hardline Muslim scholar said.
He added that he has dealt with “those who disrupted people’s rights and engaged in Daeshi and anti-security moves” in reference to the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.
“If a legal expert, a judge or a prosecutor has defended the rights of people and the security of the society, he must be lauded and encouraged for preserving the security of people against assaults and threats.”
Moreover, he said, as a prosecutor and in other capacities, he is “proud” that he always defended human rights, and promised he will continue to do so as president.
Amnesty International earlier this week renewed its call for Raisi to be put on trial for “crimes against humanity”.
Raisi is the first Iranian president to be subject to United States sanctions after the US designated him in 2019 for his role in the executions, in cracking down on public protests, and for ordering the hanging of individuals who were minors at the time they committed crimes.
He went on to say that he and Iran could now call out human rights violations by other countries – not the other way around – and called for “those that founded terrorist groups” to be prosecuted.
The Iranian president-elect also expanded on his position on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
He reiterated the stance he announced during the presidential debates, namely that he supports the deal, but said the US must return to its commitments and first lift its unilateral sanctions imposed after abandoning the historic accord.
“The world must know that the situation has changed. To this day, ‘maximum pressure’ hasn’t worked on our people and so they must reconsider and return,” he said in reference to former President Donald Trump’s hawkish policy on Iran.
He added that his government’s foreign policy “doesn’t begin with JCPOA and won’t be limited to it” as it will include a balance of engaging with the world and the region.
“Whatever negotiation that ensures our national interests will be supported by us, but we will not tie our people’s economic situation to the negotiations and will not allow negotiations for the sake of negotiations,” Raisi said.
Asked if he would meet with US President Joe Biden, his answer was a simple “no”.
He also did not answer a question on whether he would keep the current negotiating team led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, a veteran nuclear negotiator.
A sixth round of talks in Vienna to restore the accord ended on Sunday with delegates saying a final agreement is close but some key issues remain unsolved.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who met with Raisi on Monday at the president-elect’s request to talk about the nuclear deal, said earlier this week he believes an agreement can be reached before Raisi assumes office in early August.
Raisi became Iran’s eighth president in an election on Friday that saw a turnout of 48.8 percent, the lowest since the 1979 revolution, after the disqualification of several rival candidates.
And void votes finished second for the first time since the establishment of the Islamic Republic.