Iranian Dissidents Demand Oberlin Terminate Professor Accused of War Crimes

Credit Oberlin College Facebook
October 15, 2020

A group of Iranian dissidents and former political prisoners are demanding that Oberlin College terminate a tenured professor who formerly served as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, alleging that he was complicit in the regime’s crimes against humanity.

More than 600 Iranian dissidents, former political prisoners, and regime opponents wrote to Oberlin’s leadership to demand the school fire professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, a religion professor and Nancy Schrom Dye chair in Middle East and North African studies. Mahallati served as Iran’s ambassador to the U.N. in the late 1980s, when Iran killed thousands of dissidents over a span of several months.

Mahallati’s "role was to obfuscate and lie to the international community about mass crimes perpetrated by the Iranian regime," the dissidents wrote, according to a copy of that letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The letter was sent to Oberlin last week after the dissident community learned that he had been teaching there for years.

Mahallati denies any knowledge of or role in the Iranian regime’s massacre, and Oberlin officials declined to take a stand on the matter when contacted by the Free Beacon. Mahallati is one of several former Iranian regime figures who work at American universities. The Iranian dissident community says these former officials' work at American universities whitewashes Iran’s mass human-rights abuses over the years. The State Department this week demanded that U.S. think tanks and other institutions that work with the U.S. government disclose their ties to foreign governments, including Iran and other adversarial regimes such as China, the Free Beacon first reported.

Kaveh Shahrooz, an Iranian dissident and Toronto-based senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, organized the letter on behalf of the Iranian dissident community. He said that Oberlin could send a clear message about its support for global human rights by firing Mahallati.

"The hundreds of people that have signed the letter about Mr. Mahallati, and the thousands of people affected by the massacre of 1988, are looking to Oberlin to provide a modicum of justice in this case," Shahrooz told the Free Beacon. "Terminating Mr. Mahallati's employment will not bring back our loved ones who were tortured and killed without trial. But it will send the message that those who facilitate gross human-rights violations cannot get away with sweeping their acts under the rug and moving on to prestigious and well-paying jobs."

Oberlin spokesman Scott Wargo declined to take a position on the letter when reached by the Free Beacon. He said that Mahallati has been a tenured professor at the school since 2007.

"We received the letter on October 8 expressing concerns about his statements during a meeting with United Nations representatives more than 30 years ago," Wargo said. "We are in touch with Professor Mahallati to gather additional information."

Mahallati, in a statement to the Free Beacon, denied knowledge of the Iranian regime’s crimes in the 1980s, saying that his role as the regime’s ambassador did not make him privy to such information.

"I categorically deny any knowledge and therefore responsibility regarding mass executions in Iran when I was serving at the United Nations," Mahallati said. "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."

The professor maintains that his accusers "fail to provide a single solid document as evidence of my actual knowledge of these incidents."

The letter from the dissidents indicates that human-rights groups such as Amnesty International sent scores of "urgent action" notices to Iranian officials between August and December 1988, when the massacres were taking place.

"The historic record shows that Mr. Mahallati did not use his unique position at the United Nations to draw public attention to these crimes, nor did he publicly implore Iran’s government to end this criminal activity," the letter said. "Instead, he issued statements and delivered speeches denying these crimes, refuting the extent of the executions, and disputing the validity of the names provided in the reports."

Published under: Iran