strange case of Saeed
Mortazavi By Yasaman Baji
TEHRAN - After weeks of wrangling between
the Iranian parliament and President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad over the appointment of a highly
controversial former judge to direct the country's
Social Security Organization, parliament has once
again failed to impose its will on the president.
Today, the former judge, Saeed Mortazavi,
who has been indicted for serious human-rights
abuses, including "complicity in murder", remains
at his post despite a promise to key members of
parliament that he would resign.
latest turn of events has led to widespread
speculation on the role that Mortazavi may be
playing between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has highlighted both
the opacity and complexity of the regime.
The public display of discord went as far
as a procedural call for
the impeachment of
Mortazavi's boss, Minister of Labor and Welfare
Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, who hinted that
Mortazavi's appointment had been imposed on him by
Parliament cannot actually
remove Mortazavi, as its impeachment privileges do
not include sub-ministerial appointments. But
members of parliament (MPs) ultimately decided not
to impeach the minister in late April, after
former speaker of the parliament Gholamali Haddad
Adel publicly stated that Mortazavi had taken an
"oath of honor" to resign.
Mortazavi did not show up to work for a few days,
this lasted only a short while. He told one
journalist that MPs were lying about his
The series of events has
badly embarrassed Haddad Adel, whose efforts to
resolve the conflict were initially seen as an
attempt to increase his chances of becoming
speaker of the newly elected parliament.
The 45-year-old Mortazavi is a highly
controversial figure in the Islamic Republic. He
became a judge when he was just 20 years old,
despite lacking legal training, and rapidly
climbed the judicial ladder.
He ended up
as the chief press judge during the reformist era
(1997-2005) and was responsible for the closure of
many reformist newspapers and the arrest of
journalists and bloggers. Repeated complaints
about his extra-legal activities, including those
lodged by members of the reformist MPs, went
In 2002, Mortazavi was chosen as
Tehran's chief prosecutor, and it was in this
position that he was later accused of killing
Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian
photo-journalist. Evidence of physical abuse again
led MPs to attempt Mortazavi's removal, but to no
At that time, the prominent
reformist MP Mohsen Armin explicitly commented on
the possibility of support for Mortazavi from
higher levels. "I know that Judge Mortazavi is not
at the level to engage in such acts without
support," Armin said.
have been unhappy with Mortazavi, accusing him of
ethical and financial misconduct. In 2008, when
the illegal sale of questions for the competitive
entrance examination to Iran's largest private
university, the Azad University, was being
investigated, the hardline MP Alireza Zakani
accused Mortazavi of destroying the evidence of
the crime and losing key files that eventually
made the pursuit of the case impossible.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2009
election, Mortazavi was identified as being
responsible for sending peaceful demonstrators to
the overcrowded Kahrizak prison, where prisoners
were severely mistreated, resulting in the deaths
of five young men.
Even Khamenei, who many
have identified as one of Mortazavi's main
supporters, acknowledged violations at that time,
ordering the closure of Kahrizak and promising
prosecutions. But Mortazavi was merely demoted
from his position as prosecutor general and
continued working as deputy prosecutor.
was only in 2010, following a parliamentary
commission's probes of the Kahrizak affair, that
Mortazavi was finally relieved of his post.
Eventually he was indicted for "complicity in
murder", "violation of citizens' rights", and
"dishonoring Iran's security forces".
even as these charges awaited prosecution,
Ahmadinejad appointed Mortazavi to head the Task
Force on Drug Trafficking. In March 2012,
Ahmadinejad further elevated Mortazavi to his most
recent posting, as director of the Social Security
Organization, the government's largest social
It was this move that
created an uproar in the parliament, particularly
since Mortazavi had no background in running such
a large agency.
Yet with Mortazavi
continuing in his position, many are increasingly
coming to believe that his survival could not be
possible without direct support from Khamenei. In
this, observers point to Haddad Adel's
intervention to avert the ministerial impeachment,
highlighting the fact that Hadded Adel's daughter
is married to Khamenei's son.
the Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, Mortazavi is
one of many to have carried out Khamenei's orders
- and who is now being protected by the leader.
Others argue that given the key posts that
Mortazavi has held in the past, the government is
now forced to deal with him leniently, lest he
reveal regime secrets. The opposition website
Jaras has even suggested that Mortazavi has left
secretive material on a CD in the United States,
to be released if necessary.
such conspiracy theories. A university professor,
speaking anonymously, doubts that Khamenei's
direct orders were behind Kazemi's murder, the
Kahrizak crimes, or even Mortazavi's appointment
to the Social Security Organization.
the same extent that Ayatollah Khamenei did not
know about these crimes or appointments in
advance, he is incapable of punishing individuals
upon whom he relies for the repression of his
opponents," the professor says.
is a "management problem", he suggests, along with
an over-reliance on repressive forces. "People
like Ahmadinejad and Mortazavi have made it their
business to create dossiers on others, including
Khamenei himself," the professor notes.
"Khamenei is forced to remain quiet on
Mortazavi out of the fear of what he may reveal.
Meanwhile, by hiring Mortazavi, Ahmadinejad
essentially keeps under his wing a walking dossier
against the leader."