Speaking in his hometown, presidential hopeful Ebrahim Raeisi reacted to the final campaign speech of president Hassan Rouhani.
The incumbent, speaking in the same city hours earlier, had rained down his harshest criticism yet of institutions controlled by the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamanei.
In a series of fiery attacks and caustic comments, Raeisi addressed Rouhani.
“[Mr. President], in the days of an election, you are speaking of things that are not correct. I advise you, do not sacrifice the nation’s interests for your personal benefits,” he said.
The mid-ranking cleric, who heads the religious-financial Astan Quds Razavi empire, accused Rouhani of being angry.
“Instead of being accountable to the people, you are furious. Are you furious because of the people, the people who are honestly saying they cannot tolerate corruption and embezzlement?” he asked.
Earlier in Isfahan, Raeisi had threatened Rouhani. “You are well aware that my heart is a chest of secrets, and if I open my mouth nobody will be able to match me,” he said.
He did not elaborate on the “secrets” or how they could affect Rouhani.
On the same day, May 17, the supreme leader echoed the challengers’ comments, reminding his audience that some remarks made in the presidential debates were not appropriate and that people deserve better than to have to listen to such talk. Denying the current freedoms in Iran is a sign of ingratitude, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.
Hours before Raeisi’s speech, and in an unprecedented manner, the incumbent had harshly criticized the institutions managed under Khamenei’s direct supervision.
Astan Quds Razavi, headed by Raeisi was one of the main targets of his lambasting criticism. The financial empire has come under fire in recent years for tax evasion and a lack of accountability to anyone but Khamenei.
“Astan Quds Razavi has allotted the poor and the orphans 10 times more money than the amount of its due taxes,” Raeisi had retaliated.
While Rouhani maintains that Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers is his government’s greatest achievement, Raeisi blasted it as an evident example of failed diplomacy.
“[Rouhani’s foreign policy] was based on begging diplomacy,” he said.
Earlier, Rouhani had accused his challenger of being a stranger to foreign relations and incapable of understanding international language.
“Do not worry about our diplomatic relations; we are familiar with it,” Raeisi had roared back, adding, “If diplomacy means telling Westerners to look after us in the [presidential] election, let me admit that we do not understand it.”
Once again, Raesi’s remarks were a direct retort to Rouhani’s earlier comments.
“[Do] you know how to negotiate with the outside world? Do you understand the world’s language? You have difficulty in understanding your own people’s language,” Rouhani had said in his campaign in the city of Ardebil.
In response to Rouhani’s comments on limiting the freedoms of young people, and specially women by the conservatives, Raeisi fired back, “Do not worry about youth and women’s social freedom and liberties. We are going to provide all these God-given freedoms for all strata of society and particularly those who are active in the arts, as well as students and the younger generation.”
Raeisi, alongside Rouhani and other presidential candidates, have always been a target for criticism by human rights activists.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi has reiterated that none of the presidential candidates’ record for human rights is passable.
Raeisi, in recent years, has been under the dark shadow of the prisoner massacre in 1988. He was a member of a committee nicknamed the Death Quartet, which condemned thousands of the prisoners to death while they were serving their sentences. The massacre continued for at least five months. Many of the victims were buried in unknown graves.
The challenger has so far not directly commented on the massacre. However, in one of his campaign speeches, he said, “I am proud of my background, for I removed the dark shadows of terrorism hanging over the country.”
Meanwhile, Rouhani has not been so far capable of fulfilling his main promise before being elected as president. He had emphatically promised to end the house arrest of Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mhdi Karroubi. The three were the top figures of an uprising in 2009 that created the Green Movement against the re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
Critics of the regime argue that it makes little difference who becomes president, since the elected executive does not control the bulk of important state bodies and institutions. In almost all critical matters, it is the word of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, who is not elected by popular vote, that counts.
The issue of human rights has not played a central role in the current presidential debates or campaigns.
However, once again, Rouhani has promised to free the trio if re-elected.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, 29 members of the European Parliament have emphasized the necessity of releasing all political prisoners in Iran, before the election. “Iran needs a fair, just, and democratic presidential election,” they have maintained.
In the nearly 40 years since the Iranian Revolution, the authorities have never allowed outside supervision of elections in the country. This has led to international uncertainty toward the fairness of elections in Iran.