Islamic fundamentalist cleric Ebrahim Raisi received 17,926,345 of 28,933,004 million votes cast to become the eighth Iranian President on Friday.
According to many critics of Iran’s government, the election was engineered, and because of widespread disqualifications by the Guardian Council, which is responsible for monitoring elections in Iran, a range of political organisations and voices were not included.
The Ministry of the Interior said it was the lowest turnout in the history of presidential elections in Iran, at 48.8 per cent of about 59 million eligible voters.
It is the biggest boycott of a presidential election by Iranians since the 1979 revolution, in a nation where voting is not compulsory.
Reasons for the low turnout include rising public dissatisfaction with the government, severe economic and livelihood problems, high unemployment, rising prices, 39 per cent inflation, the devaluation of the national currency, the coronavirus, and the vaccination process.
A hardline judge and member of ‘death commission’
Sayyid Ebrahim Raisol-Sadati, commonly known as Ebrahim Raisi, 60, is a fundamentalist Islamic cleric, Iran’s judiciary chief and a close confidant of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.
He didn’t resign as Iran’s judiciary chief to run in the presidential election.
Raisi has been a high-ranking Iranian judicial official since the 1980s, and his presence on a four-member execution board known as the “death commission” is one of the dark spots in his past.
In August and September 1988, thousands of political and ideological prisoners were tried without the presence of a lawyer and often within minutes, by order of former Iranian Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, and were executed en masse and secretly.
As a deputy prosecutor of Tehran, Raisi was a member of the commission that, after asking a few questions about the prisoners’ political and religious beliefs, decided whether to execute them or let them live.
With the death of Ayatollah Khomeini and the beginning of the leadership of Ali Khamenei, Raisi was not only not questioned about the executions in the summer of 1988, but also continued to be promoted in Iran’s judiciary.
He was prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran for five years, head of the National Inspection Organisation for 10 years and the first deputy head of the judiciary for 10 years.
His performance in the Iranian judiciary led to the US Treasury Department’s taking action on November 4, 2019, against nine individuals close to Khamenei, including Raisi, for human rights abuses and internal repression.
Iran’s Supreme Leader’s trust in Raisi led to his appointment to the post of Astan Quds Razavi (AQR) on March 7, 2016. AQR is a religious-economic institution responsible for managing the shrine of the Eighth Shiite Imam, collecting vows, and managing the property and economic enterprises affiliated with it. This institution is one of the largest economic enterprises in Iran and is exempt from tax.
Raisi ran for president in 2017 but lost the race to incumbent President Hassan Rouhani. About a year and a half later, on March 7, 2019, Khamenei appointed Raisi as the chief of the Iranian judiciary.
During his tenure as Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief, he was responsible for the detention of human rights and political activists; executions of Islamic Republic protesters such as Navid Afkari and Ruhollah Zam; the failure to address complaints from families of the victims of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the failure to address the complaints of the families of those killed in the November 2019 nationwide protests; and the summonsing and detention of several journalists.
Election’s impact on Iran-Australia relations
Australia-Iran relations have had their ups and downs in the field of foreign policy and on issues such as human rights violations in Iran, the Middle East peace process, the Iran’s treatment of Baha’i followers as a religious minority, and Iran’s nuclear program.
Relations between the two countries were expanded under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and Rouhani (president 2013-now). Relations reduced under fundamentalist presidents such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005 -2013).
Neither country’s leader has visited the other, though there have been several high-ranking official visits, such as former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer in March 1999, former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop in April 2015, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati in May 1991 and current foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in March 2016.
The case of the arrest and detention of British-Australian researcher Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran in 2018 is considered possibly the most challenging issue in relations between the two countries.
نخستین تصویر تبادل جاسوس صهیونیستی با سه تاجر ایرانی pic.twitter.com/Y0lEIFLY5J
— باشگاه خبرنگاران جوان | YJC (@yjc___agency) November 25, 2020
Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer at Melbourne University, served two years at Evin prison after being convicted of spying.
Eventually, during an exchange of three Iranians who planned to bomb Israeli diplomats in Thailand in 2012, Dr Moore Gilbert was released. She had spent much of the time in solitary confinement and in the prison’s security detention centre.
The Australian government did not officially approve the exchange of this Middle East researcher with three Iranians imprisoned in Thailand.
The 2018 arrest of Meimanat Hosseini Chavoshi, an Iranian-Australian dual national population expert and professor at the University of Melbourne, for “social espionage” and “collaborating” with the West, also affected academic interaction between the two countries.
Australian tourists and bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin were arrested in June 2019 in Tehran on charges of spying and photographing Iran’s nuclear facilities. They were released in September 2019 after about three months in Tehran’s Evin prison and returned to Australia.
After they were freed, Australia released Reza Dehbashi Kivi, a University of Queensland doctoral student who had been detained for about 13 months for trying to send American military equipment to Iran.
In July 2017, Negar Qudskani, an Iranian citizen who was arrested in Australia on charges of buying and exporting “illegal export-controlled technology” to Iran, was extradited to the US at its request, despite Iran’s protests.
The hostage-taking of foreigners and dual nationals in Iran is not a new issue and dates back to the early years of the Islamic Revolution.
Examples of Iran’s hostage-taking diplomacy include the kidnapping of American diplomats on November 4, 1979 and the arrest and detention of dual nationals such as British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in 2016, Iranian-French Fariba Adelkhah in 2019, Iranian-Swedish physician and researcher Ahmad Reza Jalali in 2016 and Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi in 2015.
In July 2013, former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander-in-chief Mohsen Reza’i said: “If the Americans want to have a bad eye on Iran and think of a military strike, they can be sure that we will capture at least 1000 Americans in the first week, and then they will have to pay billions of dollars to free each of them and we will solve the economic problem of the country.”
It is unlikely that Australian-Iranian relations during the four-year conservative presidency of Ebrahim Raisi – who is very close to the body of power and authority in Iran – will change positively.
Raisi’s performance in the Iranian judiciary and widespread human rights abuses and his role in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners may become obstacles to developing relations between Australia and Iran.
In addition, Raisi’s closeness to Khamenei and the Iranian Supreme Leader’s preference for relations with the East, including China and Russia, over the West, will strengthen the view that the Iranian government will not seek to expand relations with Australia for at least the next four years.
- Alireza Mohebbi is a HDR candidate in Media and Communications at Swinburne University.