/ Wikimedia Commons | Inset: Public Domain

US Senate Chaplain Barry Black responded to criticism after he offered up a prayer for Iranian people “who mourn the death of their president.” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19, along with several other officials. The exact cause of the crash remains unknown. Black’s prayer received criticism, as Raisi was also known as “the Butcher of Tehran,” having been instrumental in the murder of as many as 5,000 political prisoners in 1988. The Fulcrum compared Black’s prayer “to praying for the Germans who mourned the death of Hitler, or the Russians who mourned the death of Stalin, or the Chinese who mourned the death of Mao, etc., etc.”

Speaking to CBN News, Black stated he felt compelled to show compassion for the Iranian people as they mourned their president. “That same Christ, when crucified, the first words from His lips were words that said, ‘Forgive them. They know not what they do.’ He was praying for His executioners,” said Black. He added that Jesus “not only admonished that we pray even for enemies, but He demonstrated it as He was being crucified for those who nailed Him to the cross.” He described his decision as an act of obedience. “I am basically doing what my boss, Jesus, has commissioned me to do. [Christ] is the model. He prayed in the upper room when one of His own was about to betray Him. He was about to be betrayed, and then He washed His betrayer’s feet. I just felt that, as a Christian preacher, I was filled with compassion for the Iranian people I saw on TV. There were people that were crying out to their God, that this accident, they didn’t have clarity about,” he said. Black isn’t alone in offering condolences to the Iranian people. The UN, NATO, and the US State Department offered official condolences, to the criticism of many.

While Raisi was buried four days after the crash, with large crowds being shown mourning, his critics and those who were impacted by his political executions may have less of an avenue to express their derision. Esmat Vatanparast, who lost 11 family members during the political executions, celebrated Raisi’s death. “My happiness has no limits. Today is a beautiful day for the people of Iran,” she told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, a station which seeks to bring uncensored news to the people of Iran. Vatanparast fled to Sweden after her family members’ deaths. Dadban, an Iranian group of lawyers that represents Iranian political prisoners, wrote on X that it had received reports of Iranians being told to take down posts and sign celebrating the death of Raisi. Iranian expatriates can be seen in various other countries celebrating Raisi’s death. “I’m happy at this moment because a symbol of murder is gone,” former political prisoner Mehdi Aslani told Radio Farda. “I would be lying if I said the news of the death of this executioner did not bring me joy.”

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