Who Was Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's Hardline President Killed in a Helicopter Crash?
Who Was Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's Hardline President Killed in a Helicopter Crash?

Ebrahim Raisi, the hardline president of Iran and a potential successor to the supreme leader, has died in a helicopter crash in the mountainous northwest of the country, according to Iranian media. Raisi, who served as the head of Iran's judiciary and was under U.S. sanctions for his role in the 1988 mass executions, became president in 2021 amid historically low voter turnout. During his presidency, he was a staunch supporter of Iran's uranium enrichment program and its aggressive foreign policy, including attacks on Israel.

Raisi had been viewed as a protégé of Iran's supreme leader and a likely candidate to succeed him. Iranian media confirmed his death on Monday, stating that "the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, had an accident while serving and performing his duty for the people of Iran and was martyred," according to the Mehr news agency.

Before becoming president, Raisi led Iran's judiciary and ran unsuccessfully for president in 2017 against Hassan Rouhani, a more moderate cleric who was instrumental in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Raisi was sanctioned by the U.S. and other countries for his involvement in the 1988 mass executions of political prisoners.

In the 2021 presidential election, Raisi won nearly 62% of the vote, although it was the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. Many potential candidates were barred from running, leading to widespread voter apathy and ballot voiding.

Raisi was unapologetic about his role in the 1988 executions during a press conference after his election. The executions, known as "death commissions," involved sham retrials of political prisoners and militants at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Those who identified as members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, an opposition group, were executed. Amnesty International estimates that up to 5,000 people were killed, and Raisi was a member of the commissions overseeing the trials.

In 2019, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Raisi for his role in overseeing executions, including those of juveniles, and for the torture and mistreatment of prisoners in Iran.

As president, Raisi supported Iran's uranium enrichment to near-weapons-grade levels and hindered international inspections, escalating tensions with the West. He also backed a massive attack on Israel in April, involving over 300 drones and missiles, in retaliation for a suspected Israeli attack that killed Iranian generals in Syria.

Raisi supported a harsh crackdown on dissent, particularly following the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, which sparked nationwide protests. The crackdown resulted in over 500 deaths and more than 22,000 arrests. In March, a U.N. investigative panel held Iran responsible for the "physical violence" leading to Amini's death after her arrest for not wearing a hijab to the authorities' standards.

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