Evidence Against Mahallati Irrefutable

Since Oct. 9, 2020, the Review has published seven articles addressing allegations against Professor of Religion and Nancy Schrom Dye Chair in Middle East and North African Studies Mohammad Jafar Mahallati. The first piece we published, on Oct. 9, 2020, detailed allegations that Mahallati assisted the Islamic Republic of Iran in covering up the mass execution of Iranian citizens in 1988. On April 30, 2021, he was also accused of making antisemitic and anti-Baha’i statements.

The College has released a statement that it conducted an investigation into Mahallati’s past regarding allegations that he participated in a cover-up of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s mass killings of members of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran. The investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. However, journalists at the Review have been reporting on this issue since the allegations first came to light, and this Editorial Board has found the evidence against Mahallati to be overwhelming.

In the summer of 1988, Iran tortured and executed 3,800 political prisoners and dissidents — killings that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Iran Tribunal, and Canada’s parliament have labeled crimes against humanity.

Mahallati was Iran’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations between 1987 and 1989. Mahallati claims that, since he was in New York during that summer, he did not know about the killings as they were happening. This could very well be true. However, within a few months of the executions, there were several instances where Mahallati was confronted about the killings. Instead of publicly calling for a detailed investigation or speaking out against his own government, he insisted on an alternate narrative of events and denied that the executions took place. This is not the conduct of an innocent or ignorant official — rather, it points to deliberate actions taken to hide the atrocities committed by Iran from the world.

Even if Mahallati did not hear from his own government about the executions, he could not have remained ignorant for long. Between August and December 1988, Amnesty International sent 16 Urgent Action notices, calling for activists to protest the unjust executions of political dissidents. These activists relentlessly sent letters to the head of Iran’s Supreme Court, Iran’s Minister of Justice, and diplomatic representatives of Iran, demanding that Iran cease the executions.

Furthermore, on Nov. 9, 1988, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions S. Amos Wako wrote and published reports of Iranian prisoners being executed, detailing the transfer of their corpses. Similar reports were sent by Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, U.N. special representative on the human rights situation in Iran. Mahallati met with Pohl on Nov. 29, 1988.

This Editorial Board believes the evidence proves that, within a matter of months, Mahallati was aware of the killings.

And yet, in his Nov. 29 meeting with Pohl, he claimed that the victims were killed in battle, rather than executed. In his official capacity as ambassador, he never backtracked this claim, even though human rights agencies have proven it to be false.

Mahallati’s letter indicates that while he was serving as Ambassador to the U.N., any public statements he made conveyed the official positions of the Iranian government, not his personal views. Yet in the same letter, he talks about opposing his government’s wishes “at great personal risk” to aid the anti-war effort, successfully helping to broker peace with Iraq and allowing U.N. officials to inspect human rights conditions in person in Iran. If these acts were indeed motivated by his conscience, why didn’t he make the same efforts to protest the unjust executions of citizens of his country?

The conclusion to all of this is that Oberlin College, an institution we hold dear, is employing and defending someone likely responsible for covering up crimes against humanity. The College claims that it exonerated Mahallati in an internal investigation, yet it refuses to release any details of the investigation, including who the investigating party was, which materials they looked at, and what would constitute a “guilty” verdict. The College also refuses to speak with the activists and family members decrying Mahallati’s employment at the College. Many activists assert that they have been blocked by President Carmen Twillie Ambar on Twitter after attempting to bring her attention to this issue by tagging her.

The single public statement that the College has made regarding its investigation into Mahallati only mentions Iran’s killings of members of the People’s Mujahedin Party of Iran. This statement is a blatant omission of multiple other groups that were — and continue to be — persecuted in Iran, including leftists, LGBTQ+ individuals, and Baha’is.

Iran has so successfully obfuscated its crimes against humanity — through mouthpieces like Mahallati and many others — that it has been able to continue perpetrating such crimes to the present day. Most egregiously, Mahallati’s rhetoric about the Baha’is laid the groundwork for Iran to commit genocide against the Baha’i community. To this day, Baha’is are systematically persecuted, tortured, and killed in Iran.

The College’s failure to mention whether it included other persecuted groups in its investigation — and to address Mahallati’s anti-Baha’i statements — means that it is participating in the erasure of history. The College’s actions inadvertently aid Iran in its efforts to conceal its decades-long record of crimes against humanity.

We ask that the College demonstrate that it followed its due diligence to examine every piece of evidence regarding Mahallati’s involvement in covering up Iran’s crimes. We ask that the College enters into conversation with the activists who have bared their hearts to our community and who are seeking our solidarity and kindness. We ask that, after the College engages in a fair and comprehensive investigation into the allegations that have been presented, it pursues just and swift action proportionate to the investigation’s findings.

For Oberlin faculty, many of whom know Mahallati personally, we ask that you remember that your individual judgement of his character does not absolve him of his past. You’re all researchers. Look at the facts. Read the records. Ask yourself, if Mahallati was a professor at a different university — one you had no connection to — would you support further investigation? Would you give him the benefit of the doubt, against all available evidence?

We have also been disappointed to see the lack of student engagement on this issue. While student groups mobilize at the drop of a hat for other causes they deem worthy of fighting for, not one student or organization on campus has made this issue a priority. Students, you speak so much about allyship and activism — where is your solidarity for your Iranian friends?

This Editorial Board harbors no hatred for Professor Mahallati, nor do we wish him any ill will. We merely ask that the College acts in good faith and is transparent with the student body about its ongoing justice process.