Hard-Line Cleric Named Iran's Judiciary Chief

Associated Press
Sunday, August 16, 2009

TEHRAN, Aug. 15 -- Iran's supreme leader appointed a hard-line cleric as the country's new judiciary chief at the end of his predecessor's term, state television reported Saturday.

Sadeq Larijani's appointment does not appear to be related to the turmoil that has wracked Iran after the disputed June presidential election. But the new judiciary chief will face an early test in determining how to respond to allegations that opposition protesters detained after the election were tortured to death.

Both reformists and conservatives have criticized the prisoner abuse and have called for those responsible to be punished. The anger on both sides of the political spectrum has intensified pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who reformists accuse of stealing the recent election with widespread fraud.

The unrest has also presented Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, known as the supreme leader, with the greatest challenge to Iran's cleric-led system since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Khamenei, who has supported Ahmadinejad in the election dispute, will rely on fellow hard-liner Larijani to help cope with the crisis at the judicial level.

A key part of the government's strategy to deflect criticism of its response to the postelection unrest has been a high-profile trial of about 100 reformist politicians and activists accused of attempting to overthrow Iran's Islamic system.

An additional 25 activists and opposition supporters will stand trial Sunday over their alleged involvement in the recent turmoil, said Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency, without providing details.

Larijani, who has been appointed to an initial five-year term, will take responsibility for the trials. The opposition has called them sham; the government has attempted to paint those on trial as agents of the country's foreign enemies.

But the effort has been complicated by the allegations of prisoner abuse. Senior police and judiciary officials have tried to calm public outrage by acknowledging that some detainees were abused in prison and by calling for those responsible to be punished.

But the uproar has continued, especially over allegations by defeated reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi that male and female detainees were savagely raped by their jailers.

The new judiciary chief's brother, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, has denied the rape allegations, but that has not quieted Karroubi and others.

Larijani replaces conservative cleric Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who has finished serving two customary five-year terms. The new chief, who will be inaugurated Monday, is currently a member of the Guardian Council, a hard-line constitutional watchdog that certified the results of the presidential election.

A day after Larijani takes up his post, seven Bahai leaders accused of spying for Israel, insulting Islamic sanctities and propagating against the ruling system will stand trial, IRNA quoted Hassan Haddad, a security judge, as saying Saturday.

Bahai leaders have rejected the charges, saying the seven going on trial Tuesday are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Iran had been the cradle of the Bahai faith in the middle of the 19th century, but the faith was banned after the 1979 revolution.

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