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Hardliners in vanguard

It thus comes about that Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, now the judiciary’s deputy head, will replace Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office in August as President after winning the election on June 18.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The theocratic swingback in Iran ~ from an Islamic Republic under a moderate to one under a hardcore conservative ~ has been reinforced within a span of three weeks. Iran’s supreme leader has promoted a hardline cleric to serve as head of the judiciary amidst international calls for investigations into allegations of abuses.

It thus comes about that Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, now the judiciary’s deputy head, will replace Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office in August as President after winning the election on June 18.

Ejei was put on the US and EU sanctions blacklists a decade ago for his role in a crackdown on a popular uprising when he served as intelligence minister during a disputed election.

The choice of a high profile hardliner could draw further attention to allegations of past abuses by Iran at a time when the new US administration is trying to negotiate a thaw in its frosty relations with Tehran.

Last week, a UN expert called for a new investigation into Raisi’s alleged role in the deaths of thousands of political prisoners when he served as a judge in the 1980s. Raisi denies wrongdoing. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Ejei to “promote justice, restore public rights, ensure legitimate freedoms, and oversee the proper implementation of laws, prevent crime, and resolutely fight corruption”.

The UN investigator on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said there should be an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, and the role played by Raisi as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor at the time. “As I have described in my reports, there is a widespread and systemic impunity in the country for gross violations of human rights, both historically in the past as well as in the present,” he said.

“There are very few if any real avenues for accountability in line with international standards within domestic channels.” Iran has repeatedly dismissed the criticism of its human rights record as baseless and a result of a lack of understanding of its Islamic laws. It says its legal system is independent and not influenced by political interests.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said last month that Raisi’s election was a blow for human rights and called for him to be investigated over his role in the 1988 executions.

Whereas Rouhani was a moderate in his conduct of domestic and foreign affairs, his successor in Tehran’s presidential palace is a hardcore conservative, who will likely play to Ayatollah Khamenei’s orthodox gallery and arguably the Islamic bloc generally. It can reasonably be expected that Raisi will work in tandem with the hardline cleric. In a sense, both will have to address the torpid economy, which means they can scarcely afford to offend the Western powers, least of all the United States of America. How well they walk that tightrope will determine Iran’s immediate future.