Mohammad Jafar Mahallati was named in an Amnesty International report as someone who could have prevented the mass execution of Iranian dissidents in the 1980s, yet did nothing.
By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News.
Iranian-American protestors gathered at Oberlin College Tuesday to demand that religion professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati – dubbed by the college as their “Professor of Peace” – be fired for allegedly helping to cover up the massacre of political prisoners by the Khomenei regime in Iran in the 1980s.
Some 75 protestors took to the street outside the college’s Cox Administration Building, some staging re-enactments of the summary trials which sent many Iranian dissidents to their deaths.
Among the crowd was Fatemeh Pishdadian, whose parents and a cousin were killed by the Iranian regime when she was 8 months old, according to The Chronicle. She lived in Iran until 2009 when she moved to Cleveland, and was angered to learn that Mahallati had been employed by Oberlin.
“This is infuriating that these people have made a living hell for us,” she said. “They’ve taken away our loved ones and now they live here, in the West, where they enjoy all the benefits of America without being held accountable.”
Pishdadian added that she would like to see Mahallati tried for war crimes, saying: “He has blood on his hands.”
Also at the protest was Firouz Daneshgari, who is now a professor of surgery at Case Western Reserve University, but as a medical student in 1981 was arrested on suspicion of supporting Khomeini’s opposition.
“They beat me first, and tied me by my hands for 24 hours so I could not feel anything, had no circulation,” he said. He also suffered torture with electric shocks, and was witness to the sounds of firing squads executing prisoners.
“I will have nightmares again tonight,” he mused, after recounting his memories.
Mahallati was the subject of a letter sent to the college last year signed by over 600 people, including 57 former political prisoners and family members of the victims of the 1980s purge by the Iranian regime. The letter called for him to be fired, and for the College to apologize for hiring him.
“As you may know, Mr. Mahallati was Iran’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations between 1987 and 1989. During that time, we believe the evidence linked below demonstrates that his role was to obfuscate and lie to the international community about mass crimes perpetrated by the Iranian regime,” the letter read in part.
The letter pointed to a report by Amnesty International which named Mahallati as a person who could have used his position to prevent the war crimes, but instead covered for the regime.
Mahallati has also been accused of antisemitism. During a speech given at the U .N. in 1989, Mahallati called Israel “an Islamic territory, an Islamic heritage,” and “an Islamic point of identity.” He concluded, “Its occupation by Zionist usurpers is a transgression against all Muslims of the world, and its liberation is therefore a great religious obligation and commitment.”
However, after holding meetings with Mahallati and hiring lawyers to investigate, Oberlin college said that it found no evidence of wrongdoing on his part.
“After consulting a number of sources and evaluating the public record, the college could find no evidence to corroborate the allegations against Professor Mahallati, including that he had specific knowledge of the murders taking place in Iran,” the College said a statement.
Mahallati also released a statement in which he said that the positions he took while at the UN do not reflect his personal views.
“It is important to note that my accusers have not found a single statement from me that is remotely consistent with their unfounded accusations,” he wrote.
“I firmly believe that all human beings including Muslims, Jews, Bahais and others must be free and fully respected in choosing their faith and must enjoy religious freedom irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality and other identity factors,” he added.
His lawyer, Gregory Kehoe of the firm Greenberg Traurig, said the accusations against Mahallati are “completely unjustified and without merit. For more than three decades, Professor Mahallati has consistently dedicated his life to global peacemaking and research, teaching and writing about religious tolerance, peace and friendship.”
He added that Mahallati was in New York at the time of the executions, and had “no knowledge in real time about the covert executions, nor did he attempt to conceal the facts once they were revealed.”
But these protestations of innocence are unlikely to satisfy the families of the victims of the massacre, who want justice for their relatives, some of whom have formed the Oberlin Committee for Justice for Mahallati’s Victims.
In a statement issued late October, the Committee issued a statement expressing surprise that Oberlin had failed to uncover any wrongdoing, given Mahallati being named by Amnesty International in their detailed report.
“Since the College has shown itself unwilling to conduct a fair and transparent investigation into Mr. Mahallati’s past, we demand a neutral third-party investigator be appointed and that the investigator engage with the complainants,” the Committee and two organisers, Kaveh Shahrooz and Lawdan Bazargan wrote.
They added: “The people of Iran have fought for over three decades to bring the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre to justice. They expect no justice from Iran’s regime. It is thus disappointing to find a liberal school that boasts of its commitment to justice behaving like that regime.
“Thousands of victims of the single largest mass killing in Iranian history and their families need Oberlin to live up to its own ideals.”