IranWire has received reports from inside Iran that on Tuesday, May 18, a number of reporters and information activists were contacted and warned against publishing any negative coverage of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raeesi.
A former political correspondent told IranWire they had received a call from a man who introduced himself as a member of the judiciary, which is currently headed by Raeesi.
The man initially spoke in a friendly tone, asking the journalist not to forget about "positive thinking" and "tolerance" when expressing his views about the June vote. But then he grew threatening, saying this was not a joke, and if the judiciary caught any criticism of Raeesi the reporter would be “dealt with”.
Other commentators in Iran reported the same. While not every journalist has received such a call this week, the brunt of the threats appear to have been levelled at activists with a large social media following.
In response, and implicitly referring to Raeesi himself standing on an “anti-corruption” ticket, media activist Hussein Razzagh wrote on Twitter: "Corruption means that those working under a candidate, in the current branch, are called and warned that if they speak against the candidate in his efforts to take hold of the next branch, they will be ‘dealt with’.”
He added: "What a mess we are in! If we talk about it, we’re summoned. If we talk about a summons, we’re threatened. If we talk about these events, we are accused of damaging the candidate! Tomorrow, if he becomes the president, he will punish us; if he returns to the former branch, he’ll take revenge! You caught us, Your Honour!"
Ehsan Soltani, an economic researcher, also posted on Twitter: "One of the effects of the non-resignation of the head of the judiciary, while he is running for presidential election, is that since yesterday a number of information activists have been contacted and warned that they should not publish material criticizing Mr. Raeesi on social media. This is the intelligence services and the judiciary [working] in service of a candidate!"
A report published by Radio Farda on May 19 asserted that some of these calls had been placed personally by the head of Iran’s Culture and Media Court, and some others by employees of the court’s Branch 12.
Raeesi is one of the regime’s most influential figures to have had a hand in the massacre of political prisoners in 1988. In August 2016, an audio file was released by the Telegram channel of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of the leaders of the Islamic Revolution. It described a meeting attended by Montazeri and four judicial officials, including Raeesi, in which the latter harshly criticized Raeesi for his past actions.
Three decades after he sat on the “death panel” overseeing the murders of thousands of Iranians, Raeesi stood as a presidential candidate in 2017 and came second behind Hassan Rouhani with about 16 million votes. That year, Rouhani himself lodged a direct attack on Raeesi over the 1988 massacre and subsequent atrocities, saying: “The Iranian people will not accept those who knew about the death penalties and imprisonments for 38 years."
Despite this, less than a year later and on the Supreme Leader’s express instructions, Raeesi became the head of the Iranian judiciary in March 2019. Contrary to his claims, his tenure as chief justice has had no impact on the Islamic Republic’s practice of arresting and repressing ordinary citizens, activists, Baha'is, dervishes, anti-hijab campaigners or anyone else that draws the regime’s ire. His track record is exactly the same as that of the previous incumbent.
Now Raeesi is running for president again, and one month before election day, members of his department are threatening people in the media so as to clear the way for him.
Raeesi’s previous campaign was marked by desperation. In 2017 he sat next to Amir Tataloo, an underground Iranian rapper, in a bid to appeal to young people. And in the last month a fake letters in support of his candidacy appeared in pro-judiciary media, which was fraudulently signed in the names of athletes and public figures who say they had nothing to do with it.
The Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) currently estimates that the turnout in the 2021 presidential election will be as little as 39 percent: the lowest ever since 1979. Its latest telephone poll also found that 33 percent of respondents believed the country’s situation would not change with the election of a new government. Meanwhile Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, a spokesperson for the Guardian Council, said on May 19 that from a legal perspective, low turnout would have no impact on the legitimacy of the vote on June 18.