x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Legal shake-up in Iran

Saeed Mortazavi, the hardline Tehran prosecutor in ongoing trials against leaders of the opposition movement in Iran, has been replaced by Abbas Jaafari Dowlatabadi, described by defence lawyers as 'less ideological than his predecessor'. Sadegh Larijani, the new judiciary chief appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appears to be signalling that he intends to follow a course independent of the Ahmadinejad government.

Saeed Mortazavi, the hardline Tehran prosecutor in ongoing trials against leaders of the opposition movement in Iran, has been replaced by Abbas Jaafari Dowlatabadi, described by defence lawyers as 'less ideological than his predecessor'. Sadegh Larijani, the new judiciary chief appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appears to be signalling that he intends to follow a course independent of the Ahmadinejad government. "For years, Tehran prosecutor-general Saeed Mortazavi, a staunch ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been the bane of reformists, journalists and activists," the Los Angeles Times reported. "His removal suggests an attempt by the new judiciary chief, Sadegh Larijani, the scion of a powerful conservative family, to curtail the influence of hard-liners and clean up the image of the country's legal system. "Mortazavi was replaced by Abbas Jaafari Dowlatabadi, the former head of the judiciary in the south-western province of Khuzestan, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported." The Washington Post reported that Mr Dowlatabadi: "is known to be less ideological than his predecessor, according to lawyers defending several high-profile defendants. " 'I hope the court will now free the accused,' said Saleh Nikbakth, who is defending six prominent politicians, including former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi. 'Mortazavi was the judicial cover for the arrests. He issued the warrants three days before the elections.' "The dismissal was Larijani's first important move since his appointment two weeks ago by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, and it appears to signal that he is trying to follow a course independent of the government." Press TV reported that Mr Mortazavi has since been appointed as deputy prosecutor general. Tehran Bureau said: "Nemat Ahmadi and Saleh Nikbakht, two Iranian lawyers who work for the justice ministry, told the BBC today that Mortazavi's new post is certainly lower in rank than his previous one. "Nemat Ahmadi told the BBC that the Prosecutor of Tehran is the most powerful position in the judiciary because he can call anyone who lives in Tehran to court and issue a warrant for their arrest. And we all know that most of Iran's political activists and journalists live in Tehran. That is while the general prosecutor of Iran does not have as many of the same rights, and neither does his deputy. "Saleh Nikbakht noted that the general prosecutor has six deputies, none of which hold significant power and that Mortazavi's new position is more of an administrative one." Tehran Times reported that the judiciary chief has set up a 3-man committee to study defeated candidate Mahdi Karroubi's recent letter to him on the abuse of some prisoners detained in the post-election unrest. "In a decree issued on Saturday, the Judiciary chief appointed Deputy Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi, National Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, and Judiciary adviser Ali Khalafi to serve on a panel tasked with investigating the post-election incidents that occurred at the University of Tehran dormitory and certain detention centres." In a commentary on the judicial process through which Iran has responded to the protest movement, Laura Secor wrote in The New Yorker: "Show trials have been staged before, most notably in Moscow in the nineteen-thirties. Typically, such rituals purge élites and scare the populace. They are the prelude to submission. Iran's show trials, so far, have failed to accrue this fearsome power. In part, this is because the accused are connected to a mass movement: Iranians whose democratic aspirations have evolved organically within the culture of the Islamic Republic. It is one thing to persuade citizens that a narrow band of apparatchiks are enemies of the state. It is quite another to claim that a political agenda with broad support - for popular sovereignty, human rights, due process, freedom of speech - has been covertly planted by foreigners. "The indictments prepared by the public prosecutor are almost surreally obtuse. Before the election, one indictment claims, western governments, foundations, and individuals joined forces with corrupt Iranians in an attempt to overthrow the Islamic Republic and institute a regime compliant with American designs. The nefarious plotters engaged in 'exposing cases of violations of human rights,' training reporters in 'gathering information,' and 'presenting full information on the 2009 electoral candidates'. Apparently, the Iranian citizen is meant to consider it self-evident that the country's national interest depends on concealing human-rights abuses, censoring the news, and obfuscating the electoral process." Meanwhile, President Ahmadinejad embarks on his second term facing widespread scepticism about the merits of those he has chosen to form his cabinet. Maryam Sinaiee wrote in The National that: "Ahmadinejad will have to convince not only minority reformist legislators but also a considerable number of his fellow hardliners if he is to acquire the vote of confidence needed to form a cabinet. "Less than one-quarter of the Iranian parliament's 290 representatives belong to the opposition reformist camp, but the majority hardline and conservative faction is divided over the president's proposed cabinet. "The parliament kicked off its debates on the cabinet nominees yesterday and is expected to complete the process of deciding on a vote of confidence for each proposed minister by Wednesday." The Associated Press said: "Ahmadinejad is forming his new government while still under attack by the pro-reform opposition which claims his re-election in June was fraudulent. But he is also under pressure from fellow conservatives, who have long lambasted the president for hoarding power by putting close associates in key posts. "Lawmakers from both sides criticised Ahmadinejad on Sunday for choosing inexperienced ministers, signalling the president may have difficulty getting parliament's approval for some of the posts. " 'The majority of the nominees do not have the relevant education and experience,' said reformist lawmaker Sadollah Nasiri in a session that was broadcast live on state radio. "One of his reformist colleagues, Mostafa Kavakebian, said that if parliament supports weak candidates proposed by Ahmadinejad when more experienced people are available, it 'will be a betrayal to God, the prophet and all Muslims'." Mustafa El-Labbad wrote in Al Ahram Weekly: "From a glimpse at the names on the list of cabinet nominees, one cannot help but conclude that Ahmadinejad has been guided by two basic criteria in his selection process. The first is loyalty to him personally. Ahmadinejad previously dismissed six ministers primarily because they objected to his appointment of his son-in-law, Rahim Mashai, as first vice- president of Iran. His second criterion is the close connection of the cabinet nominees to the country's Republican Guards, which applies to the majority of those on the list. "None of Ahmadinejad's nominees, however, are close either to the pragmatists or the traditionalists in the conservative camp. This is unusual for the revolutionary regime in Iran, in which presidential powers approximate to those of prime ministers in presidential republics and whose presidents have always taken pains to make conciliatory gestures towards rival political trends by allowing them at least token representation in the cabinet. Former Iranian presidents, such as Mohamed Khatami and Rafsanjani, subscribed to this tradition in forming their governments. "Yet, while loyalty and the Republican Guard connection have weighed heavily with Ahmadinejad, competence has not, and, if approved, the overall level of professionalism of the prospective government will set an all-time low for Iran. This is all the more unfortunate in that the country is not lacking in the necessary talents to form not one outstanding cabinet but several."

pwoodward@thenational.ae