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Weekly Khamenei Report: Love for Vigilantes and Hatred of Peace with Israel

October 25, 2020
Aida Ghajar
10 min read
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei thanked the police for its “initiative”: parading and humiliating “thugs” in the streets
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei thanked the police for its “initiative”: parading and humiliating “thugs” in the streets
A Khamenei office publication praised Mohammad Mohammadi as a “martyr” who was killed in a clash with “thugs” while carrying out his “duty” to “promote virtue and prohibit vice”
A Khamenei office publication praised Mohammad Mohammadi as a “martyr” who was killed in a clash with “thugs” while carrying out his “duty” to “promote virtue and prohibit vice”

In early October, the national police, known by its Persian initials NAJA, paraded groups of people through the streets of cities across Iran, humiliating and brutalizing them in public in what became known as “thugs parade." During the third week of October, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei thanked the commander of the national police for the force’s “initiative,” and the latest issue of the bulletin his office publishes and distributes in mosques, at Friday prayers and at paramilitary Basij bases was dedicated to a Basiji who was described as “a martyr for promoting virtue and forbidding vice.”

This was the latest demonstration of Khamenei’s command to “fire at will,” which allows security forces and bully vigilantes to interfere in the private lives of Iranian citizens.

In the same week, Khamenei has shown his dissatisfaction with new diplomatic relations between Israel and Iran’s Arab neighbors, tweeting about them with a good amount of trepidation.


On October 20, to mark the Islamic Republic’s Tribute to Police Week, Khamenei’s official website published a message from the Supreme Leader to General Hossein Ashtari, commander of the national police, in which “the people” thanked “NAJA’s initiative in confronting the vice.” Then, on October 22, the weekly Hezbollah’s Line, a bulletin published by Khamenei’s office, referred to a person by the name of Mohammad Mohammadi as “a martyr for promoting virtue and forbidding vice” and dedicated that week’s issue to him. The publication honors a “martyr” every week.

The bulletin explained that Mohammad Mohammadi was from a Basij base in Tehran and was killed in the eastern part of the capital on October 18. Iran’s domestic media, including Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), reported that he died from injuries he had suffered in a clash with “thugs and hoodlums.” He had, said the reports, warned the thugs who “were harassing a woman” but they piled up on him and struck him on the head with a sharp object.”

According to an IranWire source, Mohammadi was a full-time Basiji and, therefore, was considered to be a member of the Revolutionary Guards. “He was well-known in the Tehran Pars neighborhood,” says the source. “A motorcyclist taunted a girl and Mohammadi clashed with him and his companions. Everybody knew him and he would never let go of anything. He had even brandished a firearm on one occasion. Of course, after the ‘thugs parade’ episode the story is suspect. It might be that those whom the government calls ‘thugs’ want revenge.”

The latest “thug parade” in Tehran took place on October 6 and led to widespread criticism from the public and on social media. Police officers paraded several so-called “thugs” around Tehran, humiliated them in public and beat them up. Islamic Republic officials praised the police for their actions. A day after Khamenei’s message celebrating the police’s “initiative,” 222 members of the parliament issued a statement, praised the police and described the parades as “a decisive action” toward “establishing security and order” in Iran.

In an opinion piece published in the newspaper Shargh and republished by a site associated with the Revolutionary Guards, Ali Motahari, the former deputy speaker of the parliament, supported the thugs parade. “Naturally, a hoodlum who thinks that he will get out of prison easily after committing a crime becomes emboldened,” he wrote. “The new action by the police, parading the thugs on the streets, has had good results.” And, on October 21, General Ashtari was invited to a public session of the parliament, where he called Khamenei’s support “heartwarming” and announced that the “mission of the police will continue” and “the police have more than 10,000 stationary patrols and 30,000 mobile patrols.”

The policy of taking action against “thugs and hoodlums” was implemented in 2007 following a Supreme National Security Council decision to launch the “Comprehensive Moral Purity Project.” As part of this, in early October, masked men in black outfits raided homes and arrested a number of people, paraded them on the streets with their faces covered in blood. As IranWire reported, these men, dressed in black uniforms and black balaclavas, were members of NOPO, Iran’s counter-terrorism special force.


The Usefulness of Thugs

In an interview with Revolutionary Guards General Hossein Hamadani only published after he was killed in Aleppo, Syria, on October 7, 2015, the general, who had played a major role in suppressing protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election, boasted about how he had trained and used thugs during his time as the commander of the paramilitary Basij forces. “Five thousand of those who were participating in the unrests were thugs and hoodlums and did not belong to any political party or movement,” he said. “We identified them and restrained them in their homes. On the days that calls were issued [by the people to encourage other people to participate in protests] they were not allowed to leave their homes. Afterwards I recruited them into my [Basiji] battalions. Later, these three battalions proved that if we want to train mojaheds we must bring in such individuals who know how to work with blades and machetes.”

Perhaps Mohammad Mohammadi, the recently-honored “martyr" who was killed in a clash with “thugs” was himself the kind of “repurposed” hoodlum that General Hamadani had described in his interview.

Night patrols by the Basijis to “promote virtue and the forbid vice” were officially approved in 2009. Ayatollah Khamenei called the principles one of the “miracles of Islam” in a series of statements issued in 1998 and published in the Hezbollah’s Line newsletter.

This “miracle of Islam” is enshrined in Article 8 of the constitution, which states: “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, promoting virtue and forbidding vice is a universal and reciprocal duty that must be fulfilled by the people with respect to one another, by the government with respect to the people, and by the people with respect to the government.”

Of course, the constitution is talking about the government and the people, not the Supreme Leader, because he can do no wrong and nobody has the right to criticize him. Furthermore, everything must be said in a way that will meet with Khamenei’s approval, or in a way that “sir will like,” as people refer to the mode of conduct on social media. Three years ago the premise that Khamenei cannot be criticized even became a hashtag. At the time, a seminary student reported that before going to a meeting with the Supreme Leader a panel examined his speech and made changes so that “Sir would like it (#آقا_خوشش_بیاید)”.


The Double Standard

Iranian jurist Musa Barzin Khalifehlou tells IranWire that, by its very nature, “promoting virtue and forbidding vice” leads to corrupt behavior. “When an individual is allowed, for instance, to verbally warn somebody else about her hijab or when people walking in the streets are allowed to keep a critical eye on each other, the result is anarchy, violence and violation of the rule of law,” he says. “What is interesting, however, is when the people, such as activists and journalists, disclose financial corruption or write a letter to Khamenei, they are arrested and imprisoned." 

Khalifehlou also refers to an open letter by 14 civil and political activists in which they called for the resignation of Ali Khamenei and changes to the constitution in regards to the Supreme Leader's powers. The letter was published in June 2019 and the signatories were arrested soon after. "The letter from activists both promoted virtue and forbade vice," says Khalifehlou. "This double standard shows that the goal of ‘promoting virtue and forbidding vice’ is to subject people to snooping. We do not know in pursuit of what ideological and political goals religious extremists established this policy.”

Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly state that the private lives of individuals are inviolable. Iran is a signatory to both.

Furthermore, as Khalifehlou points out, Iranian law does not define “virtue” and “vice.” “This contradicts the legal principle that crimes and punishments must be clearly defined,” he says. “Furthermore, they put the responsibility for carrying out these duties on individuals and, from a legal point of view, this is wrong. We have a law supporting ‘promoters of virtue and forbidders of vice,’ a ridiculous law that goes against international standards and obligations, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Nevertheless, Khamenei has repeatedly endorsed “fire at will” by self-appointed vigilantes against citizens. In June 2017, during a meeting with university students, he talked about a soft war and what role citizens had in fighting it: “Of course, during a war, there is a command center that issues orders, but if the command center cannot contact other bases and centers, the commander issues the ‘fire at will’ order. Well, you are the officers of the soft war. Whenever you feel there is something wrong with the central organization and that it cannot work properly, you are free to fire at will. Under such circumstances, you are free to decide, to think, to move and to act.”


Khamenei Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Khamenei’s posts on social media are usually repeats of statements he makes on various occasions, but on October 20 he posted a message on Twitter first, in multiple languages. It concerned the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab countries in the region.

“Muslim nations will never accept the humiliation of compromising with the Zionist regime,” Khamenei tweeted. “If the United States thinks it can solve the region’s problem in this way, they are wrong. The status of any regime that negotiates with the usurping Zionist regime will be shaken before its nation.”

This statement was issued on the same day that the first delegation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) visited Israel and, as the first step towards rapprochement, visa requirements between the countries were lifted. Israel and the UAE also signed three other agreements during this visit — an agreement to promote and protect investments, a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in science and innovation and an aviation agreement for 24 flights a week to travel between the two countries.

Before this meeting, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who accompanied the UAE delegation in its visit to Israel, had said that more countries would make peace with Israel after Donald Trump wins the presidential election.

It appears that Khamenei’s message is not just addressed to the US but it is also meant as an ultimatum to Arab countries that have made peace with Israel or are likely to do so in the future. Of course, peace between Arab countries and Israel has been a topic that Trump has used to bolster his chances of victory in the upcoming presidential election. On October 23, Donald Trump announced that Sudan would become the third Middle Eastern state to normalize relations with Israel under an agreement brokered by his administration. In a telephone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before TV cameras, Trump asked him, “Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi? Sleepy Joe? I think — do you think he would have made this deal somehow? I don’t think so.” (Netanyahu did not answer.)

A few hours later, Khamenei’s Telegram channel published a video of a speech he had made in the summer of 2019 and in which he had mistakenly referred to Trump’s first name as “Ronald.” “In the field of politics the American power had waned as well,” he said. “If we can say that the political waning of America has one reason, that reason is the election of an individual with the characteristics of Mr. Roland Trump.”

It appears that Khamenei is now between a rock and a hard place. There is a wide gap between the views expressed on his website and by the media outlets affiliated with him and views expressed by Iranians on social networks. And, in the region, there is also an increasingly unbridgeable gap between Arab countries and Khamenei’s pronouncements and expressed wishes.



Related coverage:

Weekly Khamenei Report: Animal Farm, Soleimani Style, 20 October 2020

Who Are the Officers in Black Hoods Beating People on the Streets of Iran?, Thursday, 8 October 2020

Khamenei’s Systematic Terrorism Abroad, Sunday, 4 October 2020

How Big Is Khamenei’s Economic Empire?, 27 September 2020

Nuclear Confrontation, Khamenei’s Gift to Iran, 19 September 2020

The Overnight Ayatollah: Khamenei's Fight to Become a Spiritual Leader, 16 September 202

Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei: An Ayatollah and his Acolyte, 14 September 2020

How Did Khamenei Become Supreme Leader?, 11 September 2020



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