Since October 9, 2020, the Review has published seven articles dealing with allegations against religion professor and Nancy Schrom Dye Chair in Middle Eastern and North African Studies Mohammad Jafar Mahallati. The first article we published on October 9, 2020 detailed allegations that Mahallati helped the Islamic Republic of Iran cover up the mass execution of Iranian citizens in 1988. On April 30, 2021, he was also charged with ‘having carried out anti-Semitic and anti-Baha’i statements.
The College released a statement that it investigated Mahallati’s past regarding allegations that he participated in a cover-up of the mass killings committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran against members of the Mojahedin Organization of the people of Iran. The investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. However, journalists from Review have reported on this issue since the allegations first came to light, and this editorial board has found the evidence against Mahallati overwhelming.
In the summer of 1988, Iran tortured and executed 3,800 political prisoners and dissidents – murders that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Iranian Tribunal and the Canadian Parliament have called crimes against humanity.
Mahallati was Iran’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations between 1987 and 1989. Mahallati claims that, since he was in New York that summer, he was not aware of the murders when they were called. were producing. It could very well be true. However, a few months after the executions there were several instances where Mahallati faced killings. Instead of publicly calling for a detailed investigation or denouncing his own government, he insisted on another account of events and denied that the executions took place. This is not the conduct of an innocent or ignorant official, but rather deliberate actions taken to hide from the world the atrocities committed by Iran.
Even if Mahallati had not heard from his own government about the executions, he could not have remained in the dark for long. Between August and December 1988, Amnesty International sent 16 urgent action notices calling on activists to protest the unjust executions of political dissidents. These activists have tirelessly sent letters to the President of the Iranian Supreme Court, the Iranian Minister of Justice and Iranian diplomatic representatives, demanding that Iran stop the executions.
In addition, on November 9, 1988, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, S. Amos Wako, wrote and published reports on the execution of Iranian prisoners, detailing the transfer of their bodies. Similar reports were sent by Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, UN Special Representative on the Human Rights Situation in Iran. Mahallati met Pohl on November 29, 1988.
This editorial board believes the evidence shows that within months Mahallati knew about the murders.
And yet, in his November 29 meeting with Pohl, he claimed the victims were killed in action rather than executed. In his official capacity as Ambassador, he has never backed down on this claim, even though human rights agencies have proven it to be false.
Mahallati’s letter says that while he was Ambassador to the UN, all the public statements he made conveyed the official positions of the Iranian government, not his personal views. Yet in the same letter he speaks of opposing his government’s wishes “at great personal risk” to assist the anti-war effort, by successfully helping to negotiate peace with Iraq and by allowing UN officials to personally inspect human rights conditions in Iran. If these acts were well motivated by his conscience, why did he not make the same efforts to protest against the unjust executions of citizens of his country?
The bottom line of all this is that Oberlin College, an institution we hold dear, employs and defends someone who is likely responsible for covering up crimes against humanity. The College claims it exonerated Mahallati in an internal investigation, but it refuses to disclose details of the investigation, including who the investigating party was, what documents they reviewed and what would constitute a verdict of ” guilty “. The College also refuses to speak to activists and family members who denounce Mahallati’s employment at the College. Many activists say they were blocked by President Carmen Twillie Ambar on Twitter after trying to get her attention to the issue by tagging her.
The only public statement the College has made regarding its investigation into Mahallati only mentions the killings by Iran of members of the People’s Mojahedin Party of Iran. This statement is a glaring omission by several other groups that have been – and continue to be – persecuted in Iran, including leftists, LGBTQ + people and Baha’is.
Iran has been so successful in covering up its crimes against humanity – through spokespersons like Mahallati and many others – that it has been able to continue to perpetrate such crimes to this day. More blatantly, Mahallati’s rhetoric of the Bahá’ís laid the groundwork for Iran to commit genocide against the Bahá’í community. To this day, Bahá’ís are systematically persecuted, tortured and killed in Iran.
The College’s failure to mention whether it included other persecuted groups in its investigation – and to respond to Mahallati’s anti-Bahá’í statements – means it is participating in erasing history. The College’s actions inadvertently aid Iran in its efforts to cover up its decades-long record of crimes against humanity.
We ask the College to demonstrate that it has exercised due diligence in examining every piece of evidence regarding Mahallati’s involvement in covering up Iranian crimes. We ask that the College begin a conversation with activists who have opened their hearts to our community and who seek our solidarity and benevolence. We ask that after the College has conducted a fair and full investigation of the allegations that have been presented, it take fair and expeditious action commensurate with the findings of the investigation.
For Oberlin’s teachers, many of whom know Mahallati personally, we ask you to remember that your individual judgment of his character does not absolve him of his past. You are all researchers. Look at the facts. Read the recordings. Ask yourself if Mahallati was a professor at another university – a university that you had no connection with – would you support further investigation? Would you give him the benefit of the doubt, against all the available evidence?
We were also disappointed to see the lack of student engagement on this issue. While student groups rally downward for other causes they deem worth fighting for, not one student or organization on campus has made this issue a priority. Students, you talk so much about alliance and activism – where is your solidarity with your Iranian friends?
This editorial board does not harbor any hatred for Professor Mahallati, and we do not wish him any ill will. We are simply asking that the College act in good faith and be transparent with the student body about its ongoing legal process.