A group of former Iranian political prisoners and human rights activists sent a letter on Wednesday to the president of the prestigious Oberlin College in Ohio, demanding that the college's management terminate religion professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati after accusations came out saying he allegedly played a role in crimes against humanity.
Kaveh Shahrooz, a lawyer based in Canada, posted the letter online, writing on Twitter that: ”Today, on behalf of hundreds of victims, families & human rights experts, I wrote Oberlin College president [Carmen Twillie] Ambar objecting to the employment of M.J. Mahallati, a man implicated in the coverup of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran.”
1/ IMPORTANT. PLEASE RT ⬇️Today, on behalf of hundreds of victims, families & human rights experts, I wrote to @oberlincollege president @ctambar objecting to the employement of M.J. Mahallati, a man implicated in the coverup of the #1988massacre of political prisoners in Iran. pic.twitter.com/hAdFyug2eS— Kaveh Shahrooz کاوه شهروز (@kshahrooz) October 8, 2020
Shahrooz published a string of tweets outlining the allegations against Jafar Mahallati, who is described on Oberlin College's website as the “Presidential Scholar in Islamic Studies, and a tenured faculty at Department of Religion. Currently, he serves as the Nancy Schrom Dye Chair of Middle East and North African Studies (MENA).”
Prior to joining Oberlin College in 2007, Mahallati was the ambassador to the UN for the Islamic Republic of Iran during the Iranian regime’s 1988 massacre of political prisoners.
The letter, which was signed by 626 people, said Mahallati’s aim at the UN was to "obfuscate and lie to the international community about mass crimes perpetrated by the Iranian regime.”.
"Based on no more than a few questions about their political or religious beliefs, prisoners who had already faced (albeit inadequate) trials and sentencing, who had served several years in prison, and who had been subjected to gruesome torture were sent by the Death Commission to hang," the letter said.
Shahrooz, a prominent human rights advocate, wrote that: “The killings are now widely seen as constituting crimes against humanity. According to Iran's second in command at the time, 3,800 prisoners were killed then. The number may be higher.”
He continued, writing that “those prisoners who gave an answer unsatisfactory to the Death Commission were sent to a special line and hanged minutes later. My own uncle was among them. To this day, we don't know where he's buried,“ adding “as word got out about the killings, Amnesty and other groups began to send letters, telexes, and correspondences to Iranian officials. So, there's simply no way to believe that Iran's Ambassador the UN was unaware that this was happening.”
Shahrooz said “in fact, we know that Mr. Mahallati was aware of the killings. Because he's quoted about them in UN reports. But he's quoted as denying and downplaying them. He effectively misled the international community so the killings could continue.”
Scott Wargo, director of Media Relations for Oberlin College, wrote The Jerusalem Post by email, saying "Professor Mahallati is a tenured professor and has been a teacher at Oberlin since 2007. We received the letter today expressing concerns about his statements during a meeting with United Nations representatives more than 30 years ago. We are in touch with Professor Mahallati to gather additional information." Jafar Mahallati wrote to the Post by email on Friday: "The accusers fail to provide a single solid document as evidence of my actual knowledge of these incidents. With no concrete evidence, they infer that I must have been informed and intentionally denied these atrocities. I categorically deny any knowledge and therefore responsibility regarding mass executions in Iran when I was serving at the United Nations." The Oberlin academic added that "I was in New York the entire summer of 1988, focusing on peacemaking between Iran and Iraq and did not receive any briefing regarding executions. There was not a single communication from Tehran to Iran’s UN embassy informing Iranian diplomats of those incidents. During my short-lived ambassadorial position (1987-1989), I was focused on peacemaking efforts to end the Iran-Iraq war, the most prolonged and devastating war in modern history.""I feel deeply for the ongoing suffering of family members of the victims of violence against political prisoners," Mahallati said. "Summary executions are horrible acts and are indeed crimes against humanity wherever they happen. During my years at Oberlin, and because of my long anti-war activism, I have come under attack by a spectrum of war-lobby protagonists both in the US and in the Middle East."
According to Shahrooz, “the majority of the prisoners killed (perhaps all) had been in prison, far from any battlefield, for years. Many of those killed were leftists who had nothing to do with any armed battle against Iran's government. Mahallati must have known this. But he lied.” He continued, stating that "[Mahalatti] did it as part of the cover-up of the largest killing in contemporary Iranian history. He is an accomplice to that cover-up, which continues to this day. As Amnesty and others have noted, families of victims are still not allowed to commemorate their loved ones.”
Shahrooz said the victims demands are “an explanation of how Mahallati was hired; what kind of due diligence was done on his record; remove Mr. Mahallati from his position; an apology to the victims and their families.”
The Oberlin-based paper The Chronicle reported that Mahallati is known as the "professor of peace."