Iran’s Supreme Leader Comes to Judiciary’s Defense After Rouhani Criticizes Problematic Arrests
Iran’s supreme leader is continuing his public criticism of newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, this time accusing him of not doing enough to aid the judiciary in protecting the “dignity of the Islamic system.”
“The judiciary should be a pioneer in establishing public rights within the society … and confront anyone who violates laws,” said Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on July 3, 2017 during a speech outside his residence in Tehran to judicial officials.
The ayatollah appeared to be responding to Rouhani’s comments a day earlier about “problems” with the way the judiciary issues summons.
“We must have a reason if we summon someone,” said Rouhani at a national conference of judicial officials in Tehran on July 2. “We can’t summon someone and then find a reason. We need sufficient reason first. This is what our Constitution demands.”
“One of the president’s duties is to carry out the Constitution and helping the judiciary is part of that,” he added. “The president should be concerned with the judicial branch as much as the government and take action if he sees problems in the implementation of the law.”
Iran’s judiciary plays the paramount role in suppressing dissent and prosecuting dissidents, often on charges of “acting against national security.”
Working closely with intelligence services, the judiciary has for decades tried a wide range of opponents and critics, from students and street protestors to civil society activists and political reformers in trials lacking evidence and not conforming to fundamental standards of due process.
Several journalists, civil rights activists and politicians were arrested in the months leading up to Iran’s presidential and local council elections on May 19, 2017, including six administrators of pro-Rouhani channels on the popular Telegram messaging network.
During his July 3 speech, Khamenei also indirectly claimed Rouhani wasn’t doing enough to uphold the Islamic Republic’s so-called revolutionary principles.
“Where the state is in danger, protecting the dignity of the Islamic system becomes more important,” said Khamenei in a veiled rebuff of Rouhani’s pledges to protect citizens’ rights. “The people are observant and should not feel like the judiciary does not effectively deal with all offenders.”
He continued: “Certain people constantly say that there are parts of the Constitution that have not been implemented, but they never mention Article 8, which is about stopping evil-doers, and don’t pay attention to this important obligation.”
According to Article 8, encouraging good deeds and discouraging evil “is a universal and reciprocal duty that must be fulfilled by the people with respect to one another, by the government with respect to the people, and by the people with respect to the government.”
In October 2014, the “Plan on Protection of Promoters of Virtue and Preventers of Vice,” which aims to implement article 8 by dispatching local units to monitor the observance of virtue in Iran, received preliminary approval in Parliament, but has remained dormant since conservative lost their majority in the February 2016 parliamentary elections.
In September 2014, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer and former political prisoner, strongly criticized the bill in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Dispatching unidentified and untrained individuals to promote virtue among the citizens is completely against the law, legal principles, and legal rationale, and is a menace to the citizens and must be stopped right here,” she said.
“…The officials must think to themselves whether their own daughters, wives, and sisters would match the principles of [those who consider themselves] ‘preventers of vice,’ and if not, should they be forced to pay this high price?” she added.
By describing the judiciary as the “flag-bearer” in defending the rights of the people, Khamenei sided with conservative ally Chief Justice Sadegh Larijani.
For his part, Larijani responded to Rouhani’s criticism of the judiciary by accusing those who challenge the authority of the supreme leader, the judicial system and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of “sedition.”
The peaceful protests against the 2009 presidential election results—which were disputed by two presidential candidates at the time who remain under extrajudicial house arrest and which were violently repressed by the state—are often referred to as the “sedition” by state authorities.
Speaking at Tehran’s Friday Prayer gathering on June 30, 2017, Deputy Judiciary Chief and Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei warned that attacks against the IRGC and the judiciary were indications of a “new sedition” in progress.
The comments may have been a defensive response to other comments made by Rouhani, who on June 22 jokingly remarked that the private sector “does not dare compete” with companies and other private enterprises owned by the IRGC because “they have the guns and the media.”