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Justice Department Joins Chorus Against Rouhani

First deputy and the spokesman of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei. (File photo)
First deputy and the spokesman of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei. (File photo)

The Justice Department’s first deputy and spokesman turned his weekly press conference into a platform for a public backlash against President Hassan Rouhani’s recent comments against the judiciary.

“We are extremely sorry for some people who, simply for the sake of gaining votes, have even forgotten their own past. They’ve forgotten that they were once talking about the necessity of punishing some people in public places,” said spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei.

Ejei did not mention the president by name, but it appears he was referring to one of Rouhani’s speeches in 1980. In that speech, republished by Fars, a news agency close to the IRGC and conservatives, Rouhani had called for the execution of “conspirators” on the spot. He was referring to the leaders of a failed military coup d’etat.`

The Saving Iran’s Great Resurrection, commonly known as the Noje coup, was a military plot to overthrow the nascent government. The coup failed without even a bullet fired. The leaders of the coup were executed by firing squad.

Ejei’s comments were also a reaction to Rouhani’s May 8 speech in city of Hamadan.

“The people of Iran declare that they do not accept those who, during the past 38 years, have never known anything but execution and prison,” Rouhani said.

The speech was immediately taken as an attack on one of Rouhani’s main challengers, Ebrahim Raeisi, a mid-ranking cleric.

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Raeisi has always served in high positions in the Justice Department, including deputy chief justice (2004–14) and attorney general (2014-16). In summer 1988, Raeisi was a member of a special committee, later labeled the Hanging Judges Quartet, which executed thousands of prisoners while they were behind the bars, serving their sentences.

In his weekly press conference, Ejei tried to defend the judiciary’s record.

“Fighting against corrupt transgressors and criminals has been an honor for the judiciary during the past 38 years. The Justice Department is proud of moving ahead on the same path,” he said.

Meanwhile, he referred to a case concerning the discovery of alleged contraband cargo of clothing and garments in the house of a cabinet minister, saying, “The legal procedure of the case is in preliminary stages.”

The case has evolved into a bitter quarrel between the government and the Justice Department. Rouhani, in a speech in Hamadan, defended his minister, accusing “the spokesman of an institution” of smearing the government.

“I will not allow a house that is supposed to be the House of Justice turn into a House of Lies,” he said.

In response, the Justice Department’s spokesman refrained from a direct response.

“To avoid creating a tense atmosphere in the days of the election, we have kept mum, but we are going to respond to such comments in the right and suitable time,” Ejei said.

He did not mention Rouhani or first deputy Eshaq Jahangiri by name but went further and said, “Some of the comments made by presidential candidates have been against the regime and its values as well as against Islam and Islamic values.”

The judiciary in Iran is controlled by hard-line clerics who are loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and have often been at the forefront of silencing regime critics. At the same time, they are often the target of criticism by those who accuse the all-powerful institution of showing little interest in prosecuting powerful regime insiders who have been involved in financial scandals.