Iran names hardline cleric as top judge amid calls for probe into past abuses

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei attends the International Conference of the Prosecutors of Islamic Countries in Tehran April 21, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s supreme leader promoted a hardline cleric to serve as head of the judiciary on Friday, amid international calls for investigations into allegations of abuses.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, now the judiciary’s deputy head, will replace Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office in August as president after winning a June 18 election.

Ejei was put on U.S. and EU sanctions blacklists a decade ago for his role in a crackdown on a popular uprising when he served as intelligence minister during a disputed election.

The choice of someone with such a high profile as a hardliner could draw further attention to allegations of past abuses by Iran at a time when the new U.S. administration is trying to negotiate a thaw with Tehran.

This week, a U.N. expert called for a new investigation into Raisi’s alleged role in the deaths of thousands of political prisoners when he served as a judge in the 1980s. Raisi denies wrongdoing.

Rights groups have criticized the election of Raisi in a vote in which prominent rivals were barred from standing.

In a statement, Khamenei urged Ejei to “promote justice, restore public rights, ensure legitimate freedoms, and oversee the proper implementation of laws, prevent crime, and resolutely fight corruption,” state news agency IRNA reported.

The U.N. investigator on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, told Reuters this week there should be an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, and the role played by Raisi as Tehran deputy prosecutor at the time.

“As I have described in my reports, there is a widespread and systemic impunity in the country for gross violations of human rights, both historically in the past as well as in the present,” he said. “There are very few if any real avenues for accountability in line with international standards within domestic channels.”

Iran has repeatedly dismissed the criticism of its human rights record as baseless and a result of a lack of understanding of its Islamic laws. It says its legal system is independent and not influenced by political interests.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said last month that Raisi’s election was a blow for human rights and called for him to be investigated over his role in the 1988 executions.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Robin Emmot in Brussels and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by William Maclean and Howard Goller)

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