Pro-Iran professor slips up on his ‘crimes against humanity’ in interview

Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, a professor of Islamic Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio called the regime-sanctioned massacre of 5,000 Iranians “little details.”

Jafar Mahallati speaks at TEDxTehran (photo credit: ALI MIRSHAFI/TEDXTEHRAN)
Jafar Mahallati speaks at TEDxTehran

Oberlin College's Islamic Studies professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati’s alleged interview with Voice of America’s Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist and human rights activist on Friday, revealed a number of instances in which he covered up crimes against humanity during his time serving as Iran's ambassador to the UN in 1988, according to lawyers and human rights experts.

Iranian human rights activist Lawdan Barzargan has, in recent times, emerged as the pivotal leader of a dynamic international campaign called Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists to dislodge Mahallati from academia.

The writing on the wall

Bazargan told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday: "Last year, I wrote to Oberlin College that 'time is not your friend. The sooner you fire Mahallati, the better it is.' They didn’t listen and now more than 1.2 million people have seen the interview of Masih Alinejad with me and Mahallati and learned that Oberlin College has a professor that is involved in crimes against humanity. This is just the beginning, once the Congress gets involved, it will get worse."

Prominent Iranian-Canadian lawyer Kaveh Shahrooz wrote on Twitter: "Mahallati begins by saying that as UN ambassador in NYC he couldn't know all the  (little details) of what was happening back home in Iran. The ‘little details’ he refers to was the massacre of at approximately 5000 people.”

 Protest for the removal of Oberlin College professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati (credit: MELISSA LANDA)
Protest for the removal of Oberlin College professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati (credit: MELISSA LANDA)

In a highly detailed Amnesty International report on the clerical regime’s mass murder of 5,000 innocent Iranian prisoners in 1988, published in 2018, the London-based human rights organization said Mahallati committed “crimes against humanity” by covering up the slaughter of Iranian political prisoners.

When international crimes aren't so secret

Shahrooz, who is part of a campaign seeking to secure Mahallati’s dismissal from Oberlin College in Ohio, added that Mahallati said that "the massacre was a secret when it was happening. This is a big huge lie on two fronts. First of all, the preparation for the massacre was a secret. But once the killings began, the killings were well-known. Amnesty International issued **sixteen** urgent alerts about the killings as they were happening. The UN asked about them. It was not secret.”

The lawyer added: “Secondly, if Mr. Mahallati genuinely didn't know about the ‘little details,’ he could have pleaded ignorance when asked about them by the UN. He didn't. He deliberately repeated the [Islamic Republic of Iran] IRI's lie, claiming that the people being executed were battlefield casualties.”

Reverberating across the web

The Voice of America Farsi interview with Mahallati has electrified Iranian diaspora social media and reached inside the highly repressive theocratic state.  

British-Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi, who is an Amnesty International Ambassador for human rights, tweeted: “Wow. Prof. Mahallati is so clearly defending the Islamic Republic by repeatedly evading questions about their crimes against humanity.”

The misery and bloodshed Mahallati and other officials of the clerical regime reportedly caused during the murder sprees of the summer of 1988 remain largely unpunished.  The US government has sanctioned Tehran’s current president Ebrahim Raisi for his role in the infamous “'Death Commission” that determined who would face the lawless system of the regime’s judiciary.

Shahrooz wrote: “Mahallati is then asked whether the people who actively perpetrated the 1988 massacre (e.g. IRI prez  Ebrahim Raisi, who sat on the ‘Death Commission’) should be prosecuted. His answers is revealing and dispels all the Oberlin College lies about him promoting peace.”

Mahallati and The Jerusalem Post 

The Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists wants Mahallati to not only be fired but to face crimes against humanity charges in court.  Mahallati denied that he covered up the 1998 massacre in an email to The Jerusalem Post in 2020.

”Behind the universal messages [Mahallati] refers to is a man who is in denial and who hasn't learned to listen to his conscience."

Pooyan Tamimi Arab, Utrecht University in the Netherlands,

Mahallati lashed out at Barzargan in the VOA interview: “Of course, I have nothing to say to Ms. Bazargan, who, with the support of an Israeli newspaper, wants to blackmail a university professor without any documents.”

Bazargan’s older brother Bijan, an advocate of trade unions, was executed by the regime in 1988 for his left-wing views.

The “Israeli newspaper” that Mahallati apparently referenced was The Jerusalem Post due to its extensive coverage of the Mahallati affair. The Post revealed last year that Mahallati urged a violent global jihad against Israel and laid the ideological foundation for the genocide of the persecuted religious community  Baha'is in Iran while he was Tehran’s top envoy at the UN. 

Pooyan Tamimi Arab, a professor of religious studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, wrote on Twitter: ”Behind the universal messages [Mahallati] refers to is a man who is in denial and who hasn't learned to listen to his conscience.” The academic added that “Oberlin College don’t think that we will forget. I will do everything in my power to let my academic colleagues in the Netherlands know about how your institution is standing on the wrong side of history.”

Mahallati bitterly complained about the protests launched against him on the Oberlin campus and across the world.  “There is no need to come to the streets,” said Mahallati. The Iranian campaign to oust Mahallati includes seeking to chip away at revenue and contracts won by the chairman of the Oberlin College board of trustees, Chris Canavan.

Canavan is a partner with Lion's Head Global Partners, which is based in the United Kingdom and has received government funds. Canavan, according to his critics, has gone to great lengths to shield Mahallati from criticism about his role in the mass murder. Canavan has declined to answer Post press queries.

Mahallati went as far as to compare the intense criticism of his conduct and rhetoric at the UN to “a crime against humanity.” He said, “Likewise, if you commit a character assassination against a university professor, you have also committed a crime against humanity.” 

Len Khodorkovsky, a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, tweeted: "After this interview with Masih Alinejad, I’m more convinced than ever that Oberlin College 'Professor of Peace' Mahallati is not only complicit in the 1988 massacre, but is still likely an Iranian regime agent. Isn’t Oberlin’s leadership embarrassed about hiring this a**hole?"

Mahallati sports the title "Professor Peace" because he teaches about peace and friendship.

The Post sent press queries to Oberlin College.