Amnesty International Report Alleges New Evidence in Mahallati Involvement in Cover Up of 1988 Iran Mass Political Killings

On Feb. 6, Amnesty International released a 17-page report condemning Professor of Religion Mohammad Jafar Mahallati’s actions as Iran’s former ambassador to the United Nations. The report alleges that Mahallati played an active role in covering up the 1988 mass killings of political prisoners in Iran.

The recently released report claims that Mahallati worked to feed the United Nations misleading information in an effort to obstruct their investigation into the 1988 killings, which he continued to fend off in 1989 by slandering the victims of the executions. It alleges that Mahallati “undertook efforts in late November and early December 1988 to block the adoption of a resolution by the U.N. General Assembly that expressed concern about the mass executions.” Additional evidence cited in the report indicates that Mahallati misrepresented the executions as “battlefield killings.”

In 1989, after substantial evidence of the July–September 1988 extrajudicial executions had been submitted to Iranian authorities, Mahallati denied all reports of the mass executions. In December 1988, the U.N. adopted a resolution expressing “grave concern” about Iran’s targeting of political prisoners. According to international media reports, Mahallati tried to have the resolution “dropped” or “watered down.” In February 1989, Mahallati wrote a letter from the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the U.N. in New York claiming the individuals killed had “direct organizational contacts with … a treacherous espionage network.”

Since October 2020, family members of those killed have demanded the firing of Mahallati and an apology from the College for hiring him. In 2021, Oberlin College hired an unnamed third party to investigate allegations against Mahallati. Based on the findings of the investigation, the College concluded that there was no evidence to corroborate these accusations against Mahallati. The Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists protested Mahallati at the 2022 Commencement. In September 2022, Republican representatives announced their own investigation. Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina released evidence about Mahallati’s involvement with Sepehr-e-Siasat, an Iranian newspaper accused of praising Lebanese Islamist militant group Hezbollah.

Amnesty International provided evidence that Mahallati continues to deny he was aware of the mass executions. In a 2022 interview with journalist Masih Alinejad, Mahallati said: “I had absolutely no information and in the office of Iran’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. in New York, there is not one telex or one document [indicating] that any information was given to the ambassador.”

During his tenure as ambassador for Iran, Mahallati represented Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Camron Amin, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who researches Iran and Persian history, noted the violence of the regime Mahallati represented.

“Ayatollah Khomeini made a number of ruthless decisions,” Amin wrote in an email to the Review. “He purged many formerly trusted members of his inner circle, he tightened up the legal power invested in the office he held, and he ended a war that was draining resources the state could use to further suppress dissent. Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khameneh’i, built on this bloody legacy with assassinations of prominent dissidents in Iran and overseas. 1988 was not a bug of the Islamic Republican system, but a feature.”

In response to Amnesty International’s new information, the Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists released a statement upholding their convictions against Mahallati.

“In light of this new evidence, we conclude with certainty that Mr. Mahallati was aware of the executions and was in a position to stop them from happening,” the report reads. “We find him negligent and complicit for failing to use his position at the U.N. to draw public attention to the Islamic Regime or Iran’s crimes against humanity, prevent further executions, and mislead the U.N. … We also condemn the college for continually defending a known human rights abuser and failing to meet with the victims’ families, look at their evidence and listen to their stories.”