On March 7, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Ebrahim Raisi as judiciary chief. Raisi was not a well-known figure until he entered the 2017 presidential race. The hardline cleric garnered 38 percent of the vote but lost to incumbent Hassan Rouhani, who got 57 percent. Raisi replaces another conservative, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, who held the position since 2009. Khamenei appointed Larijani as the chairman of the Expediency Council and as one the six clerics of the Guardian Council in December 2018.
Human rights groups and the U.S. State Department criticized Raisi’s appointment. The Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based organization, said he should be tried for crimes against humanity. As deputy prosecutor general of Tehran, Raisi reportedly participated in a so-called “death commission” that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. In an audio recording from 1988, the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri admonished the commission’s members: “The greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you. Your names will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals.” The audio was only released in 2016.
Born in 1960, Raisi attended the Qom seminary and went on to become a prosecutor in the early 1980s. As a seyyed, a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, he has the privilege of wearing a black turban. Other Shiite clerics traditionally wear white.
Raisi served as prosecutor general of Tehran between 1989 and 1994, first deputy head of the judiciary from 2004 to 2014, and Iran’s prosecutor general from 2014 to 2016. Raisi supported the brutal crackdowns and showed little tolerance for public dissent following the disputed 2009 presidential election. On foreign affairs, he called for the Saudi royal family to be “brought to justice” following the deadly 2015 stampede during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
In 2016, Supreme Leader Khamenei appointed him as custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, a charitable foundation that is responsible for maintaining the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, the most holy site in Iran for Shiite Muslims. Astan Quds Razavi’s assets are reportedly worth billions of dollars. In April, Khamenei named Raisi's replacement, Hojatoleslam Ahmad Marvi.
Raisi has close ties to Khamenei and is rumored to be a potential successor to the 79-year-old Supreme Leader. The Society of Qom Seminary Teachers, an influential clerical organization, endorsed Raisi during the 2017 election. Raisi holds a respected position among the clerical establishment. Khamenei said he appointed Raisi to bring about a “transformation” in the judiciary and to be “with the people, the revolution and against corruption.” Raisi is a hojatoleslam, the clerical ranking below ayatollah, but some Iranian news agencies began referring him to as an ayatollah on the day of the appointment. The following Instagram post from Fars News Agency refers to him as an ayatollah even though Khamenei's order said hojatoleslam.
During the 2017 presidential campaign, Raisi portrayed himself as the champion of the poor. He promised to triple cash handouts to the impoverished. Raisi blamed Rouhani’s government for high unemployment and economic mismanagement. “We are facing an unacceptable situation because of weak management. We can’t fix our country’s problems with words. We can fix our problems with firm and revolutionary management,” he said at a campaign rally.
Raisi’s performance in the three presidential debates was lackluster, but his populist rhetoric won him 15 million votes. Some of Raisi’s rallies attracted thousands. Raisi reportedly visited the Israel-Lebanon border in January 2018 with a delegation of Hezbollah leaders and Revolutionary Guards officers, a sign of his growing stature within Iran’s hierarchy.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino denounced Raisi’s judiciary appointment in a tweet.
Ebrahim Raeesi, involved in mass executions of political prisoners, was chosen to lead #Iran’s judiciary. What a disgrace! The regime makes a mockery of the legal process by allowing unfair trials and inhumane prison conditions. Iranians deserve better!— Robert Palladino (@StateDeputySPOX) March 5, 2019
On March 12, Raisi was elected as deputy head of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body with the authority to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader. His attainment of the position further solidified Raisi’s position among Iran’s political elite. The following are excerpted remarks by Raisi on various issues.
On the Economy
“Today, 30 percent of our young people are out of jobs and unemployment is over 12 percent. Does this situation have to continue? Do we have to wait for foreigners to fix our problems?”
“We are facing an unacceptable situation because of weak management. We can’t fix our country’s problems with words. We can fix our problems with firm and revolutionary management.”
—April 29, 2017, in a speech at a campaign rally in Tehran
“The reason why I’m running for president is that I want to help solve people’s problems. I think my presence will build a consensus and suit all tastes.”
“If this [Rouhani] administration keeps creating jobs at the current rate, it will take 10 years to solve the problem of unemployment if no jobless person is added to the society during that period. This comes as, each year, a large number of graduates are added to those looking for jobs. Up to one and a half million jobs must be created each year.”
“We can expedite the trend of housing provision in the country. The ground is prepared for that. We have enough construction material as well, and most items needed in the housing sector are produced domestically. If construction of houses is activated, it will not only solve the problem of housing for people and the youth, but it will create jobs as well.”
“We have given Rls 5,700 trillion [$152bn] in loans to some individuals. If they are repaid, it will get the wheels of production turning. The government’s debts should be looked into immediately.”
“Cash subsidies should increase for the lower deciles of population. How can a person live on the Rls. 450,000 ($12) he/she receives as subsidy per month?”
“Our dear people should know that whatever I promise has been discussed with experts and can be fulfilled. They should know that I believe I can live up to my promises as I’m familiar with the situation of the people and the country.”
—May 11, 2017, in remarks on Iranian television
On the United States
"We don’t count on U.S. promises in our calculations."
—Feb. 10, 2017, on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution
"Today Americans are afraid of the word 'Iran.’ This is the solution. The solution is not backing down. We must force them to retreat.”
—April 26, 2017, on a state television talk show
On Israel and the Palestinians
“The Deal of Century theory is not a new phenomenon. Youth have to know the history of Palestine. They (the Zionist regime and the United States) want some parts of Sinai Desert of Egypt through the support of Saudi Arabia in order to construct towns for Palestinians. They want to displace and transplant about five million Palestinians to other countries in order to undermine the issue of Palestine as the land of all Muslims.”
—Aug. 20, 2018, in a speech marking World Mosque Day in Tehran
"The Zionists and those who support them are destroying the rights of all human beings and those who believe in God, such as Christians, Muslims, Jews and all those who are righteous; they regard the issue of Palestine and the freedom of the al-Quds as their most important concern; today we have to see who and which movement is supporting Palestine and al-Quds, to know who is seeking justice in the world.”
"Today Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman is pursuing policies of the Arrogance [U.S.] in the region, and on this basis, the United States is trying to change the most important issue of the region from Palestine to the Islamic Republic."
—May 15, 2018, in a speech at a conference on Jerusalem in Mashhad
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the Appointment
The commencement of the 5th decade of Revolution requires that—by relying on gained experiences— a major change occurs in the Judiciary Branch & the justice department starts with fresh energy, powerfully marks a new era that is deserving and appropriate for #Revolution2ndPhase. pic.twitter.com/RuNDw2xgdz— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) March 7, 2019
Give the highest priority to promotion of justice, revival of the public rights and legal freedoms and supervising the endorsement of the law. Benefit from and employ the pious, revolutionary & knowledgeable young individuals for various positions in the judiciary branch.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) March 7, 2019