March Protest Planned Against Iran Diplomat Turned Oberlin Professor

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The Chronicle-Telegram
Jason Hawk
Feb 22, 2022 5:00 AM

OBERLIN — Pictures of Iranian women executed by the Iranian government in the late 1980s will be shown during a Saturday, March 5, protest again calling for the termination of Oberlin College professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati.

The demonstration will also feature photos of women currently being held as political prisoners, according to Lawdan Bazargan, a California resident who has been trying since October 2020 to get Mahallati fired.

“We want to give the Oberlin College students and alumni an understanding of the brutal regime that Mahallati helped create and continues to support,” she said in a Monday email to college board members.

Since 2007, Mahallati has been a professor of religion and presidential scholar in Islamic studies. He serves as the Nancy Schrom Dye Chair of Middle East and North African Studies, founded the Oberlin Friendship Festival and teaches courses in achieving friendship and peace.

In the 1980s, he was Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, where “he played a key role in ending the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq,” according to the college.

His detractors view his legacy in a different light — as the face of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s regime that put to death unknown thousands of political prisoners, the majority of which were part of the People’s Mijahedin of Iran and other leftist factions.

One of the victims was Bazargan’s brother, Bijan.

After being subjected to extreme physical and psychological abuse, Bijan was killed and buried in an unmarked grave.

“It’s been 33 years, and we still don’t know where my brother is buried, and I am not alone,” she wrote to Oberlin College board members. “The families of thousands of victims of the 1988 prison massacre in Iran have never received so much as an acknowledgment from the regime that it ever happened.”

In a 2018 report, Amnesty International claimed Mahallati was among the senior officials and diplomats who “were actively involved in denying the mass killings in media interviews and exchanges with the UN to shield those responsible from accountability.”

Protesters gathered in early November 2021 on Tappan Square, across the street from the college’s Cox Administration Building.

They called Mahallati’s employment at Oberlin “a disgrace to the education system,” and Canadian attorney Kaveh Shahrooz, who represents the protest group, called the college “a guilty party” that “protects evil men.”

Their demand that Mahallati be fired has gone unanswered.

Bazargan said the next protest has been timed just a few days ahead of International Women Day on March 8. She said she plans to fly to Oberlin on March 2 in case the college board of trustees decides to speak with her when it meets March 3.

Director of Media Relations Scott Wargo did not comment on whether the board would consider that possibility.

Asked for comment, he provided a link to an online fact sheet that reiterates previously-shared information about Mahallati but declined to say anything else on the record.

The college has said it conducted an inquiry into Mahallati and did not find proof to corroborate the allegations that he knew about the 1988 massacre during his tenure at the U.N.

“The official positions I formally took at the United Nations during the time I served do not portray my personal views…. My personal views are well portrayed in all my published books, articles and teachings during the last 30 years since I left the U.N. post,” Mahallati wrote in response to the accusations. “It is important to note that my accusers have not found a single statement from me that is remotely consistent with their unfounded accusations.”

He expressed sympathy for all who have suffered human rights abuses in any country based on political beliefs, religion or ethnicity, and said he opposes capital punishment, “because, based on Abrahamic teachings, even in the extreme cases of proven murder, there must be a chance for apology and forgiveness.”

He said his father, Ayatollah Mahallati, risked his life to save the lives of the Bahai against mobs during the early days of the 1980s Iranian revolution.

His father was exiled in the early 1970s because he protested against the execution of a People’s Mujahedin of Iran member by the Iranian monarchy regime.

The college has maintained that Mahallati’s record at Oberlin has been exemplary, and rejected other claims of misconduct by the professor.

“The review could not identify a pattern of anti-Semitic behavior or ongoing calls for the destruction of Israel,” its fact sheet said.

Contact Jason Hawk at (440) 329-7122 or news@lcnewspapers.com.

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