Iran’s justice department confirmed the arrest of two Iranian religious eulogists on Sunday.
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei provided no names or details on the reason for their arrests, but according to unofficial reports they were arrested on charges of spying for Israel.
In unconfirmed reports circulating on social media in the last few weeks, that sound like a Hollywood movie plot, two young women allegedly approached the two famous religious eulogists, Reza Helali and Rouhollah Bahmani, who have close ties to the conservative political establishment, and started up romantic relations with them, extracting sensitive information that they passed on to individuals working for the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.
The unconfirmed reports can have a public relations impact for the regime because Helali and Bahmani both have close ties to high-ranking Iranian officials.
Helali who has been a regular guest at the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a fierce critic of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, singing songs against the government’s nuclear agreement with the West, among other things.
Religious eulogists (Maddah in Persian) play a significant role in Shi’ite culture and are highly respected in the religious community.
They are in charge of keeping Shi’ite traditions alive by singing songs and reciting poems about religious events such as the tragic death of the third Shi’ite imam, Imam Hossein, who was reportedly beheaded by his opponents in the seventh century.
The eulogists were also actively involved in mobilizing people for the Iran-Iraq War, and by doing so they started to play a crucial political role, Hassan Fereshtian, an Iranian religious scholar residing in France, told Radio Farda.
They continued their political role after the war, trying to rally people behind the supreme leader. They had become a political tool in the hand of the conservative establishment, Fereshtian added.
By creating scandals, though, eulogists have harmed the reputation of their leadership, including the supreme leader.
Judicial and security officials in Iran handle scandals in a very secretive manner. The public can find out about them only through unofficial channels.
Officials have neither confirmed nor denied the social media chatter about the identity of those arrested.
Helali was already a controversial figure. A few years ago, a short video clip published on social media showed him in his pajamas, apparently heavily doped, and smoking shisha next to a young woman who was not dressed according to Islamic norms.
Helali later claimed she was his wife, but he provided no information about the second woman, who was filming the event and did not appear on screen.
Another huge scandal was unearthed last year, involving Saeed Tousi, a prominent Iranian Quran reciter and teacher accused of sexually abusing minor students.
Tousi has recited the Quran at state events attended by senior officials, including Khamenei. Photos published by Iranian media show them next to one another, smiling and shaking hands.