Iran’s supreme leader appointed a hard-line cleric as the country’s new judiciary chief following the end of his predecessor’s term, state television reported on Saturday.
Sadeq Larijani’s appointment does not appear to be related to the turmoil that has wracked Iran following 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 believe stole the recent election with massive fraud.
The unrest has also presented Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the greatest challenge ever 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 post-election unrest has been a high-profile trial of 100 reformist politicians and activists accused of attempting to overthrow Iran’s Islamic system.
Larijani, who has been appointed to an initial five-year term, will take responsibility for a trial that the opposition has called a 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 calling for those responsible to be punished.
But the uproar has continued, especially over claims by defeated reformist presidential candidate Mahdi 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 it 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 is currently a member of the hard-line constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, which certified the results of the presidential election.