Former Political Prisoners Sue Raisi in U.S. Court

On September 15, an Iranian dissident and two former political prisoners launched a civil lawsuit against Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for complicity in their torture and false imprisonment. The complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, cited “severe personal injuries and other irreparable harm suffered as a result of [the] defendants' unlawful acts of torture against the plaintiffs.”

Under the Torture Victim Protection Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens can bring claims for torture and extrajudicial killing committed overseas by foreign individuals.

The plaintiffs included:

  • Hamid Babaei: The Belgian-Iranian academic was imprisoned for six years from 2013 to 2019 for “cooperating with a hostile government.” He had refused to cooperate with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence in a scheme to spy on Iranian students studying in Belgium.
  • Mehdi Hajati: Hajati, then a member of Shiraz’s city council, was arrested in 2018 for defending the Baha’i faith, which is considered a heretical sect by the Islamic Republic. He had called for the release of two Baha’i activists. Hajati was released on bail after 10 days. In 2019, he was sentenced to a year imprisonment for defending Baha’is. Hajati was released in January 2020 but imprisoned again in March 2020 after he criticized the government’s COVID-19 response. He was later released and left Iran.
  • Kylie Moore-Gilbert: The British-Australian academic was arrested in 2018 by Revolutionary Guards intelligence agents on charges of espionage. She was later sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. In 2020, Moore-Gilbert was released in exchange for three Iranians imprisoned in Thailand for a botched bomb plot allegedly targeting Israeli diplomats in 2012.  

Babaei, Hajati and Moore-Gilbert are seeking compensatory damages. During a press conference on September 20, they described poor treatment during their time in prison, including psychological torture, solitary confinement, filthy cells, and inadequate medical treatment. Raisi’s tenure as head of the judiciary from March 2019 to June 2021 overlapped with their time in prison.   

The plaintiffs are being represented by human rights lawyer Shahin Milani. The lawsuit “contributes to the effort to show how immunity is being abused by authoritarian regimes, by regimes who are engaged in gross human rights violations, and that we know this system isn't working,” he told The National.

The following is a video statement by Moore-Gilbert: