Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi – considered a successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – fled Germany on Thursday for Iran amid criminal complaints filed against him for crimes against humanity, after the cleric received medical treatment for a brain tumor.
Critics accuse Shahroudi, the who headed Iran’s judiciary system from 1999 to 2009, of imposing executions on 2,000 people, including adolescents.
“Germany has a choice,” Dr. Michael Rubin, an Iran expert with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “Does it want to be a safe haven for terrorists and mass murderers? Alas, for Sigmar Gabriel [Germany’s foreign minister], it seems that the answer was and is ‘yes.’ But why should principle matter if German businesses can make an extra million euros?”
Shahroudi’s presence in Hanover prompted protests and widespread calls on social media for Germany’s government to arrest and prosecute the religious leader.
Shahroudi is believed to have fled on Iran Air’s flight 722 that departed Hamburg for Tehran.
A diverse group of around 80 Iranian dissidents demonstrated at the Hamburg airport, chanting “Arrest Shahroudi!” and “Down with Khamenei! Down with Rouhani!” Video footage of the protest was posted on Twitter and YouTube.
The German Kurdish community and the prominent German Green Party politician and human rights activist Volker Beck filed criminal complaints against Shahroudi.
The state prosecutor in Lower Saxony opened an investigation into the allegations of widespread crimes against humanity conducted by Shahroudi in the Islamic Republic.
The federal prosecutor also initiated a probe into Shahroudi. The German government said it provided a visa to Shahroudi for medical treatment. The 69-year-old ayatollah has been in Germany since December 21.
The Left Party deputy Niema Movassat wrote on Twitter that it would be better if the “federal prosecutor conducted an investigatory process against Shahroudi” rather than a mere probe.
Beck told the Post: “Germany should not be a sanctuary for such people, who in their country persecute people for political or religious reasons and threaten them with death. The Iranian regime persecutes women who were raped, homosexuals, Baha’is, Kurds and atheists.”
He added: “It would be a big mistake if the federal government provides diplomatic immunity here to the organizer of mass murders through Iran’s justice system. We should not be a health resort for human rights violators, rather they should be held accountable.”
The human rights NGO Stop the Bomb urged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration in early January to end its support for Iran’s clerical regime.
Gabriel is widely considered one of the most zealous supporters of boosting trade with Iran’s regime and preserving the controversial nuclear deal. In 2015, Gabriel brought Dr. Madjid Samii, the president of the International Neuroscience Institute in Hanover where Shahroudi was treated, on his trip to Iran with representatives of major German companies to drum up business deals.
Gabriel made the first of his two trips with business groups to Iran in 2015, a few days after the nuclear deal was reached.
German exports to Iran increased in 2017 by 19%, amounting to just under €2.4 billion in export volume.