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A Historic Letter by Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani?

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

14 Oct 2010 02:03Comments

Complains of systemic abuses to Khamenei -- but is document authentic?

Sadeq-Larijani1.jpg[ iran media buzz ] JARAS, the pro-Green Movement website, has reported on a letter that Sadegh Larijani, the judiciary chief, has supposedly sent to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, protesting the intervention of outsiders in judicial affairs and threatening to resign. The existence of the letter and its contents have not been confirmed yet by any other source. At the time of this article's writing, Larijani has kept his silence, but Chief Prosecutor Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, the former minister of intelligence, has denied the report. At the conclusion of this article, we will return to the question of the letter's authenticity.

The hardliners have been preparing for several weeks for a trip Khamenei has been scheduled to make to the holy city of Qom.

The trip is supposed to demonstrate that Khamenei is not only firmly in control, but also that he is widely supported and respected by the vast majority of clerics, and in particular by the Marjas -- the grand ayatollahs who, in Shiite Islam, act as sources of emulation for the masses. The hardliners want to declare Khamenei the Marja-e omoom -- one recognized by other grand ayatollahs as the most important and definitive source of emulation. Shiism has not had such a Marja since Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Hossein Borujerdi (1875-1961) passed away. Even supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini never claimed that he was the Marja-e omoom; Khomeini himself was opposed to such a declaration. The trip has apparently been postponed several times, presumably because most of the grand ayatollahs have refused to greet Khamenei as the Marja-e omoom, or even a Marja at all.

According to the JARAS report, in early September Larijani traveled to Qom to ask his father-in-law, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani, to greet and meet with Khamenei when he arrives in the city. Vahid Khorasani is believed to be quietly opposed to Khamenei and what has been happening in the nation. The opposition is not new. It goes back to the 1990s, just a few years after Khamenei's 1989 appointment as Supreme Leader. At that time, the right-wing clergy tried to promote Khamenei as a Marja. Vahid Khorasani is said to have told him, "You be the sultan, but leave marjaeiyat [Marja status] to others." Whenever Khamenei visits Qom, Vahid Khorasani leaves town, just so he will not have to meet with him.

When his son-in-law came to plead his case, not only did Vahid Khorasani not agree to greet Khamenei in the holy shrine in Qom, or even meet with him at his home, he rebuked Larijani about what has been happening under his watch in the judiciary. He reportedly told Larijani that he will go to hell if he does not do anything about the injustices being done to the people. According to the report, it was this exchange that prompted Larijani to write the letter to Khamenei. In the reported letter, Larijani writes,

From early 2009, you told me to begin training in the judiciary and gradually made it clear to me that you had decided to appoint me as the successor to [former judiciary chief] Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. My brother Ali [Larijani, speaker of the Majles (parliament)] was opposed to me becoming the judiciary chief and I told you about it, but you insisted that I should not pay attention to what Ali has advised me.

Sadegh Larijani was officially appointed the judiciary chief on August 15, 2009. He continues,

Thus, after thinking and making consultation about the matter, I decided to accept your Excellency's order subject to four conditions:

First, the interventions by the Haghani School group in the affairs of the judiciary must stop.

The group he refers to is led by Sayyed Ebrahim Raeisi, first deputy to Larijani, and Ali Razini, former prosecutor of the Special Court for the Clergy. The Haghani School itself, a religious institution, is led by the ultra-reactionary Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, spiritual advisor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Second, Saeed Mortazavi must be fired.

Mortazavi, the hardline former Tehran prosecutor, has been implicated in numerous crimes. He is now a deputy prosecutor-general, one of six deputies to Mohseni Ejei.

Third, your Excellency's office should not intervene in my duties and the affairs of the judiciary, and I work with your Excellency directly.

Khamenei's office is run by by Sayyed Mojtaba Khamenei, the Ayatollah's son, and Sayyed Asghar Hejazi, who acts effectively, if unofficially, as Khamenei's chief of staff.

Fourth, we should deal with major cases of economic corruption without any hesitation and exception.

Your Excellency accepted my conditions but, regarding the third condition, you said, "Sayyed Mojtaba and Hejazi only convey my messages to you and nothing more."

According to the report, Larijani then turns to the 2009 presidential election:

After the election of June 2009, due to the advice of my teacher and father-in-law, Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani, who had strongly advised me against becoming the judiciary chief, I asked you to excuse me [allow me to resign], but you insisted that the nezaam [political system] needs me and emphasized that I am not allowed to leave.

I then made a new request to you. In Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi's last months as judiciary chief, your Excellency had invoked items 2 and 3 of Article 176 of the Constitution, revoking the power of the judiciary in dealing with the opposition and transferring that authority to the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). On June 11, 2009 [the day before last year's election], the SNSC immediately appointed Judge Saeed Mortazavi to carry out your order, and he immediately issued white signed arrest warrants to arrest all the political activists without going through due judicial process.

The reference to "white" orders means that Mortazavi provided absolute authority to security agents to arrest whomever they wanted -- he signed arrest warrants without even specifying who should be arrested.

I explicitly asked you to nullify your order, and you accepted my request, and acting according to Article 176 of the Constitution, you formed a committee of three and transferred the authority from the SNSC to the committee, with Tehran Prosecutor [Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi] to carry out the committee's orders. After consulting with you, Hojatoleslams Sheik Ali Khalafi [former prosecutor and current judiciary chief of staff], Sayyed Ebrahimi Raeisi, and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejeii were appointed to the committee.

Larijani then launches into a series of complaints about the intervention of outsiders in the work of the committee and the judiciary:

Although your Excellency agreed that the committee would operate under direct control of the judiciary chief, unfortunately, this committee has not been the main organ of decision making. The judicial orders have been issued in your office by your son, Hojatoleslam Hossein Taeb, and Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, and given to Mr. Raeisi to be implemented. I tried several times to fire Mr. Raeisi, but Mr. Sayyed Mojtaba [Khamenei] did not allow me.

Taeb, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' intelligence unit, was formerly the commander of the Basij militia. Naghdi is the current Basij commander. Notorious figures, they have each been implicated in many crimes. Taeb played a lead role in the violent abuses that took place in the Kahrizak detention center last year, where at least three young people were murdered.

Although I am apparently the judiciary chief, it is in fact your son that issues judicial orders through Ebrahim Raeisi. I would like to inform you that I can no longer be a witness to such unjust acts. I would like to inform you of the injustice that has taken place during my tenure:

First, all the arrest warrants for political and security offenders have been issued without going through due judicial process.

Two, the jails and detention centers are run in violation of rules and regulations.

Three, the heads of the jails and detention centers have no power to monitor and intervene in [the cases] of the political-security prisoners.

Fourth, the release of, or granting of furloughs to, such prisoners must be confirmed and conveyed to us by Agha [Mr.] Vahid.

"Agha Vahid" is the honorific by which Vahid Haghanian is customarily known. Haghanian works in Khamenei's office. Little is known about him, but he is recognized to be the ayatollah's right hand and takes on the most sensitive issues.

Fifth, the minimum torture in the jails is long-term solitary confinement.

Sixth, I must point out that even those who have been pardoned by you have not been told, so that they remain a hostage of your office.

Seventh, most importantly, the courts' decisions have been issued by people outside the judiciary and have been passed on to the judges by Mr. Raeisi. I am embarrassed to say that, when questioned by the honorable judges [about such orders], I have no answer.

Eighth, the innocent families of the imprisoned have been harassed.

Ninth, without having the proper orders issued by the judiciary, there have been many cases of eavesdropping. The person in charge of eavesdropping affairs has been kept totally in the dark. I would like to inform you that such eavesdropping has been abused economically and politically.

Finally, when such abuses have been protested against by the independent honorable judges, they have been justified by the aforementioned people in this letter [on the basis] that everything is done to preserve the nezaam, and that this is the most important thing and, thus, all the decisions are legitimate.

According to the report, Larijani makes three suggestions to Khamenei to remedy the situation:

First suggestion: the security-political courts be separated from the judiciary, similar to the Special Court of the Clergy that is run under your direct orders. In that case, Mr. Raeisi should be appointed the head of this new court.

Second suggestion: If the first suggestion is not accepted, I would like to ask you to accept the religious responsibility for all the affairs that have to do with the imprisoned political-security people -- some of which are described above -- even if it is oral, and convey it to me so that I can say that I was ordered religiously.

Third suggestion: If neither of the two is accepted, please accept my resignation.

What is the likelihood that the letter is entirely authentic? There are at least two reasons to believe that the text that has been publicized may not be totally genuine. One is the fact that the Larijani brothers have a long history of serving the masters of the Islamic Republic. The oldest brother, Mohammad Javad Ardeshir Larijani, has been one of the most outspoken conservative critics of the reformists, the Green Movement, and Mir Hossein Mousavi. Majles Speaker Ali Larijani has been a loyal foot soldier for Khamenei. Many other highly qualified clerics who could have been judiciary chief were passed over in favor of Sadegh Larijani. The second reason is that the letter is extremely explicit, and it makes tough accusations against Sayyed Mojtaba Khamenei, the ayatollah's favorite among his children.

On the other hand, the fact that Sadegh Larijani is a son-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani makes it possible that a letter of protest was sent to Khamenei, though perhaps not with such severe and unguarded language. If a letter with the above content has actually been sent to the Supreme Leader, it would represent a historic document. The letter also provides one more important piece of evidence about what happened in last year's election. As Larijani states, Khamenei revoked the power of the judiciary the day before the election and transferred it to the SNSC, which is packed with his cronies. What was he anticipating that he could not trust the judiciary and had to order a transfer of power?

Mohseni Ejei's denial of the letter's existence has no significance. He is a hardline, totally discredited cleric who has been ardently opposed to even the mildest forms of reform. As a prosecutor in various courts, he has treated political activists, human rights advocates, and journalists very harshly. He has also been implicated in several crimes. Just read the article by Dr. Ali Shakoori Raad, a member of the central committee of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), the largest reformist political party, about Ejei's performance.

In the latest development, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi announced today that Shakoori Raad has been arrested after posting the article.

The IIPF has strongly protested the arrest.

The letter reminds me of a conversation that I had several years ago with a leading human rights advocate in Iran, one who has argued many cases before the courts. When I asked the advocate why Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, a noted Islamic scholar and a seemingly pious man, allowed so many crimes be committed by a small group of judges, he replied, "Shahroudi is not the true judiciary chief. The decisions are made elsewhere."

Update: After nine days of silence, Sadegh Larijani spoke up and denied writing the letter. He also attacked the Green Movement for "fabricating" it. As Tehran Bureau reported, the likelihood that Larijani wrote such a letter, at least with the reported content and in that tone, was low. But, on the other hand, much, if not all, of what the purported letter said is true, and Larijani's denial implies that he personally takes responsibility for all the crimes and misdeeds that have been committed. -- M. Sahimi

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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