Who is Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline scholar and former 'Death Committee member?
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Who is the president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, who has been considered one of the expected successors of the supreme leader of the country, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?

Ebrahim Raisi

Joining the judiciary and serving as a prosecutor

Ebrahim Raisi was born in 1960 in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, where one of the holiest shrines of Shia Muslims is located. His father was a scholar and died when Ebrahim was only five.

According to Shia tradition, his black turban indicates his descent from the Prophet of Islam. Following his father’s footsteps, he started attending a seminary in the holy city of Qom at age 15 for education.

He participated in protests against the Western-backed Shah of Iran as a student. The Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

After the revolution, he joined the judiciary. He served as a prosecutor in several cities, during which he was also under the tutelage of Ayatollah Khamenei, who became the president of Iran in 1981.

Ebrahim Raisi

Part of the ‘Death Committee’

Raisi was only 25 when he became a deputy prosecutor in Tehran.

While in this position, he served as one of the four judges who were part of the secret tribunals established in 1988, which became known as the ‘Death Committee.’

The tribunal reportedly retried thousands of prisoners who were already incarcerated and serving sentences for their political activities. Most of these prisoners were members of the leftist opposition group Mujahideen Khalq ( MEK ), also known as the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI ).

The exact number of those executed by the tribunal is unknown. Still, human rights groups claim that around 5,000 men and women were executed and buried in mass graves, a crime against humanity.

Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran do not deny that death sentences have been carried out, but they do not discuss the details and legal status of individual cases.

Raisi has repeatedly denied any role in the mass executions but has also said those executions were justified by a fatwa issued by former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

A few years ago, an audio tape of a conversation between Ebrahim Raisi, several other members of the judiciary, and the then Deputy Supreme Leader Ayatollah Hussain Ali Montazeri was leaked.

In it, Montazeri can be heard calling the death penalty ‘the greatest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic.’

A year later, Montazeri lost his position as Khomeini’s designated successor, and upon Khomeini’s death, Ayatollah Khamenei became Supreme Leader.

Ebrahim Raisi served as Tehran’s prosecutor, then head of the State Inspectorate Organization and first deputy head of the judiciary before being appointed Iran’s Prosecutor General in 2014.

Two years later, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed him the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, one of Iran’s most essential and prosperous religious organizations.

This organization manages the mausoleum of the eighth Shia Imam Imam Raza in Mashhad and all the various welfare institutions and organizations associated with it. According to the United States, this organization has a large share in construction, agriculture, energy, telecommunications, and financial services.

In 2017, Raisi surprised observers by becoming a presidential candidate.

In the 2017 elections, Hassan Rouhani, a fellow scholar of Ibrahim’s, won a second term by a landslide with 57 percent of the vote in the first phase of the election.

Ebrahim Raisi

‘Anti-corruption fighter’

Raisi had presented himself as an ‘anti-corruption fighter,’ but the president accused him of doing nothing to tackle corruption as deputy head of the judiciary. He came second in the 2017 election with 38 percent.

The loss did not tarnish Raisi’s image, and in 2019, Ayatollah Khamenei nominated him to the powerful post of head of the judiciary.

The following week, he was also elected as deputy chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the 88-member body of clerics responsible for selecting the next Supreme Leader.

As head of the judiciary, Raisi implemented reforms that reduced the number of people sentenced to death and hanged for drug-related crimes in the country. However, Iran still has more people than any other country except China. It is a country that punishes people with death.

The judiciary, along with the security services, continued to crack down on Iranians with dual citizenship or foreign permanent residents.

Then US President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Raisi in 2019 based on his human rights record, accusing him of overseeing the execution of people who were minors at the time of the alleged crimes. And that he was involved in a violent crackdown on protests by the opposition Green Movement after the disputed 2009 presidential election.

Raisi’s private life is little known except that his wife, Jameela, teaches at Shahid Behishti University in Tehran, and they have two adult daughters. His father-in-law, Ayatollah Ahmed Alam Al Huda, leads Friday prayers in Mashhad.

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