Iran Prepares for a Presidential Election. Guardian Council Vets Six Candidates with Questionable Records

Iran Prepares for a Presidential Election. Guardian Council Vets Six Candidates with Questionable Records

In the wake of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s death last month, Iran is gearing up for a presidential election. 

Historical Lack of Free and Fair Elections in Iran Dating Back Decades

Iranian elections have a dark past, consistently marked by a lack of free, fair, and transparent processes. In 2010, the highly disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to widespread allegations of vote-rigging and fraud, sparking the largest protests since the 1979 revolution. The Green Movement, as it came to be known, saw millions of Iranians take to the streets demanding democracy and more. The government responded with a violent crackdown, resulting in numerous arrests, injuries, and deaths–some of those arrested remain detained today. 

The 2021 election saw the lowest voter turnout in history, highlighting growing public disillusionment. Despite this, the ruling elite persist in claiming legitimacy, even as each election sees diminishing public participation. This lack of engagement underscores the deepening disconnect between the ruling elite and the general populace. 

Six Candidates Cleared for Upcoming Iranian Presidential Election 

As the upcoming election approaches, six candidates have been approved. The approval process for presidential candidates in Iran is overseen by the Guardian Council, a powerful body comprising six Islamic jurists appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists approved by the Parliament. This council rigorously vets each applicant, assessing their qualifications, political and religious beliefs, and backgrounds—not on true merit. As a result, numerous candidates are often disqualified, leaving only a select few approved to run in the election.

Iran has had a significant history in manipulating the elections. The 2009 presidential election in Iran was marred by significant controversy and accusations of fraud. After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced as the winner with nearly 63% of the vote, widespread protests erupted, driven by opposition candidates who claimed vote manipulation. These protests, part of the Iranian Green Movement, persisted into 2010. The government’s violent suppression of these protests, resulting in deaths and arrests, further fueled beliefs of a rigged election. Prominent opposition figures such as Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi, leaders of the 2009 Green Movement, have been under house arrest since February 2011. Despite international outcry their situation remains unchanged, with severe restrictions on their communication and movement. Mehdi Karroubi, vocal in his criticism of the Iranian government’s actions, including its handling of incidents like the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, has faced worsening health conditions under house arrest. His attempts to hold the Iranian leadership accountable have led to increased restrictions on his freedoms. The continued detention of these opposition figures without trial has been condemned internationally, with entities such as the UN calling for their immediate release.

In the 2021 presidential election, controversy arose even before voting began, with the Guardian Council disqualifying many popular candidates, seen as a move to ensure the victory of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi. This election saw the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, at around 49%, with a significant portion of protest votes. International observers and human rights organizations dismissed the election as neither free nor fair, labeling it a “show election.” Voter turnout in Iran’s presidential elections has been on a declining trend over the past two decades, reflecting growing public disillusionment with the electoral process. Notably, turnout was around 85% in 2009, despite controversies, likely due to a highly polarized environment. It saw a slight decline to around 72% in 2013, remained stable at about 73% in 2017, and drastically fell to a record low of approximately 49% in 2021. This decline has been attributed to widespread skepticism about electoral integrity and the pre-selection of candidates by the Guardian Council. Statistics on voter turnout are usually provided by the Iranian government, which is often accused of reporting higher participation figures than the reality.

This rigorous and  vetting process lacking any transparency narrows the pool of candidates presented to voters, limiting genuine political competition and reducing the electorate’s ability to choose from a diverse range of political views. The skewed candidate selection process undermines the claim of a democratic nature to the elections, reinforcing the status quo of the ruling elite and perpetuating the brutal suppression of human rights across the country.

The upcoming election is a stark example of this process. The Guardian Council has officially announced the list of approved candidates. The final slate of candidates includes:

Masoud Pezeshkian: b.1954 (70), Mahabad. Former Minister of Health. He had previously ran for the presidency in 2013 but withdrew and in 2021 was disqualified by the Guardian Council for the election. Pezeshkian has a demonstrated history of involvement in restricting access to the highest attainable standard of health while additionally being implicated in unethical practices involving condoning the violation of women’s rights. 

Mostafa Pourmohammadi: b.1959 (65), Qom. Former Minister of Interior and Justice, and Revolutionary Prosecutor notorious for his involvement in the mass executions of the 1980s. He was a member of the “Death Squad” in 1988, notorious for the mass executions of political prisoners that summer.  Since 2021, he has been the President of the Center for IslamicRevolution Documents. More details

Saeed Jalili: b. 1965(59), Mashhad. Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (2007-2013). Member of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, has a history of systematic repression of political activists and notable complicity in the brutal crackdowns on peaceful protests. Notably, Saeed Jalili was the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council when the house arrest decision of the aforementioned Green Movement leaders was carried out in 2010.  More details

Alireza Zakani: b. 1965 (59), Rey. The current mayor of Tehran and former head of the Basij Student Organization, he was involved in the events of July 9, 1999, and the attack on Tehran University dormitory. Alireza Zakani has a long history of persecuting minorities and political opponents. He was previously disqualified from the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. During Zakani’s tenure, a group called the HijabBans was established to oversee women’s dress codes in Tehran’s metro. Zakani has been sanctioned by the UK for his involvement in serious human rights violations. More details

Seyed Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi: b. 1971 (53), ​​Fariman, Khorasan Razavi Province. Former Deputy Speaker of Parliament (2020-2021) Current Vice President of Iran and head of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs and Member of the Islamic Revolution Stability Front since 2019. Hashemi has been a staunch supporter of the so-called Hijab bill as well as the ‘Protection of Users’ Rights and Basic Applications in Cyberspace’ which seeks to restrict free access to the internet among other things.  More details

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf: b. 1961 (63), Torghabeh, Khorasan Razavi Province.  Former Commander Of the IRGC Air Force (1997-2000). Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, has long maintained leading involvement in the illegal crackdown on peaceful protestors including their arbitrary detentions and torture. Ghalibaf himself has spoken publicly about his involvement in and support in such actions. In addition, Ghalibaf is a staunch supporter of the so-called Hijab bill. More details

The elections, rather than serving as a tool for the people to express their will, act as a mechanism for the ruling authorities to present outward legitimacy. This can be seen notably in the candidacy of individuals who played leading roles in the arrest of protestors in 2010 following disputed elections. 

It is noteworthy that several other prominent figures applied but were not approved by the Guardian Council to run in the upcoming election. This list includes:

Eshaq Jahangiri: Former First Vice President

Mehrdad Bazrpash: Current Minister of Roads and Urban Development

Sowlat Mortazavi: Current Minister of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare

Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash: Former IRGC commander

Mostafa Kavakebian: Former representative of Tehran in the Parliament. More details

Sayyid Shamseddin Hosseini: Former Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance

Abdolnaser Hemmati: Former Governor of the Central Bank

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Former President

Mohammad Mehdi Esmaeili: Current Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance. More details

Vahid Haghanian: Former Executive Deputy of the Office of the Supreme Leader

Ali Larijani: Former Speaker of the Parliament. More details

Elias Naderan: Former MP

Hasan Sobhani: Former MP

Hasan Kamran: Former MP

Ahmad Akbari: Former MP

Ghasem Jasemi: Former MP

Hamideh Zarabadi: Former MP

Mohammad Nazemi Ardakani: Former Minister 

The current configuration severely limits any potential for significant political change from within the system, effectively making the elections a mere formality. The process ensures competing interests do not become a true threat to the ruling elite. Moreover, the Guardian Council’s role extends to overseeing the presidential elections themselves, further ensuring that the elected president will align with the broader interests of the ruling elite, thereby maintaining the status quo.

This system reveals a façade of democracy, where the true power dynamics operate on a level that is far removed from the democratic ideals professed to the public. The system not only undermines the democratic essence of elections but also perpetuates a cycle of power that is self-serving for those at the helm.

 

 

 

Iranian Prisons are Places of Relentless Suffering

Incarcerated Individuals tell HRA: “Abuse of power is rampant. We are left at their mercy”

Iran’s prisons are harrowing places where abuse and neglect are rampant. The following report is based on testimonies from former and current incarcerated individuals in Iran. Conversations between individuals and HRA reveal severe and systemic issues that fly in the face of Iran’s international human rights obligations as well as universally agreed upon minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners. 

In Iran, the management, administration and regulations of the prisons falls under the jurisdiction of the Prisons Organisation which operates directly under the supervision of the Head of the Judiciary. The Head of the Judiciary appoints the head of the Prisons Organization who is responsible for the implementation of corrective measures, rehabilitation programs, and ensuring the rights and welfare of prisoners. This investigation was prompted by a notable void in reporting on prison conditions, which is likely attributed to the restricted nature of such reporting and the considerable challenge faced by third-party monitors in accessing penal facilities directly. The administration of prisons is tightly integrated with the judicial system’s broader goals and policies, and they have notably been known for their lack of transparency.

Conditions described by current and formerly incarcerated individuals in Iranian prisons such as EvinRajaei ShahrVakil AbadGhezel HesarQarchak, and Adel Abad reveal significant breaches of international human rights law. In addition to clear violations of international human rights law, the testimonies detail blatant disregard for upholding the Mandela Rules.The Nelson Mandela Rules, while not legally binding, are considered “soft law” and represent essential principles

In 2015 The UN General Assembly adopted the Mandela Rules as the universally agreed minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners and several UN Member States have since incorporated the provisions of the rules into their domestic legal frameworks. Iran’s lack of overall adherence to these principles can be seen as a failure to uphold the universally agreed upon minimum standards. 

The Mandela Rules on the Standard Minimum Treatment of Prisoners 

Testimonies collected by HRA indicate grossly inadequate healthcare within prisons, with limited access to medical professionals and neglect of serious health conditions. This situation is a clear violation of the right to health as stipulated in the Mandela Rules.

Accommodation and Hygiene: 

“Adel Abad was a place of relentless suffering. The rooms were semi-dark and poorly ventilated, making it hard to breathe. Temperature extremes were common, with freezing winters and scorching summers.”

Mandela Rule 12 requires that prison accommodations provide adequate living space, ventilation, and lighting. 

Mandela Rule 13 stipulates the need for sanitary facilities that are hygienic and accessible. 

Mandela Rule 15 emphasizes the provision of adequate clothing and bedding.

The detailed testimonies collected by HRA highlight the violation of basic accommodation standards. Poor ventilation, inadequate lighting, and extreme temperatures directly contravene the Mandela Rules, creating inhumane living conditions that fail to respect the dignity of prisoners.

While engaging with HRA, Zahra, a political prisoner who spent 5 years in Evin Prison said “The cells were dimly lit and poorly ventilated, making the air thick and oppressive. Summers were unbearable, and winters were freezing.” Another individual detailed a similar situation describing “semi-dark and poorly ventilated [rooms], making it hard to breathe.” They continued, “Temperature extremes were common, with freezing winters and scorching summers.”

Food and Water

“Since the merger of the prisoner populations from Rajaei Shahr and Ghezel Hesar (Qezalhasar), the dynamics here have drastically changed. The overcrowding has worsened, and food shortages have become more severe.” 

Mandela Rule 22 ensures prisoners receive nutritious and sufficient food and drinking water.

Throughout HRA’s conversations, incarcerated individuals  consistently report inadequate and poor-quality food, with those unable to afford additional supplies from prison stores suffering from malnutrition. This testimony reveals stark violations of the Mandela Rules’ requirement for nutritious and sufficient food.

Ali, a 28 year old male incarcerated at Rajaei Shahr Prison four years told HRA, “The food was inedible, and many relied on the expensive prison store to supplement their diet.” Another individual currently incarcerated at Ghezel Hesar Prison said “The food is insufficient and often spoiled, forcing those with money to buy from the expensive prison store.”

The dire situation in these prisons, as described by the incarcerated individuals, underscores a critical failure to meet the basic nutritional needs mandated by Mandela Rule 22. The overcrowding exacerbated by the merger of incarcerated individuals populations from Rajaei Shahr and Ghezel Hesar has only intensified food shortages, leaving many inmates malnourished and dependent on expensive prison stores for survival. This blatant disregard for providing adequate and nutritious food highlights a profound violation of human rights within Iran’s prison system.

Healthcare

“The denial of these essential services is a clear reflection of the system’s failures.”

Mandela Rule 24 mandates that prisoners have access to the same standard of healthcare available in the community, without discrimination.

Testimonies indicate grossly inadequate healthcare, with limited access to medical professionals and neglect of serious health conditions. This situation is a clear violation of the right to health as stipulated in the Mandela Rules.

In Evin Prison one individual described that “Healthcare was minimal, with only an inexperienced nurse available and a doctor visiting infrequently.” Another serving time at Vakil Abad Prison from 2019-2023 disclosed to HRA  “Medical services were grossly inadequate, with many serious conditions ignored.” Another individual informed HRA that the existence of medical care “was a farce”. 

The denial of essential healthcare services within Iranian prisons is a damning indictment of the system’s failures to uphold basic human rights. Mandela Rule 24 unequivocally mandates that prisoners have access to healthcare equivalent to that

available in the wider community, without discrimination. These testimonies reveal a systemic failure to provide the necessary medical care, further underscoring the urgent need for reform within Iran’s prison system.

International Human Rights Law 

International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): The Right to Humane Treatment

Article 10 of the ICCPR states that all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

Indeed the degrading treatment described in great detail in conversation with almost all individuals including the pervasive violence reported violates Article 10 of the ICCPR, which emphasizes the humane treatment of all prisoners.

Nasrin, who is serving time since 2021 in Qarchak (Shahre-Rey) Prison, recounted to HRA “The humiliating behavior of some guards, who conduct nude body searches and degrade us in front of others, only adds to the misery.” Mehdi, a 40 year old male serving time at Ghezel Hesar Prison, in dialogue with HRA informed that : “The prison is a hotspot for violence, with easy access to weapons like large handmade knives that many of us carry for protection.”

Individuals described brutal violence. One stated that “Physical abuse by guards was common, and there were frequent hunger strikes in protest.” Another, age 60, incarcerated since 2006, stated “Some guards exploit these conditions, demanding bribes for basic necessities or the promise of safety.”

Physical abuse by guards and the exploitation of prisoners for bribes constitute inhuman and degrading treatment, falling under the purview of torture. The reports of frequent abuse and the calculated neglect by authorities indicate systemic issues within the prison system.

Conclusion

The systemic issues within Iranian prisons highlight a severe failure to adhere to international human rights obligations and principles. The harrowing testimonies from both current and former incarcerated individuals expose a grim reality of widespread abuse and severe neglect. Healthcare in these prisons is grossly inadequate, with limited access to medical professionals and widespread neglect of serious health conditions. Combined with appalling hygiene standards, subpar food and water provisions, and violence and degrading treatment by guards, it is evident that Iranian prisons fall alarmingly short of international standards and principles.

Iran must urgently address these violations to align itself with international standards and obligations, ensuring the humane treatment and dignity of all incarcerated individuals. 

HRA urges the international community, including international human rights organizations, governments, and the United Nations, to take immediate action regarding the stark realities revealed by these testimonies. It is imperative that in all dialogue concerted efforts be made to pressure Iran to adhere to international human rights standards, ensure the humane treatment of incarcerated individuals, and allow independent monitoring of prison conditions. 

*For a more in depth look at the unlawful conditions of Prisons mentioned in this article, please visit www.spreadingjustice.org and search the name of the Prison in the top right hand search bar.

*For a brief overview see below related Individuals involved in rights violations associated with unlawful prison conditions subdivided by Prison and General Associations: 

Shiraz Central Prison (AKA Adel Abad Prison): 

  1. ISHAGH EBRAHIMI: Director-General of Fars Province Prisons Since Sep 2019
  2. RUHOLLAH REZAEI DANA: the director of Shiraz Central Prison Since June 2020
  3. ALI MOZAFFARI: Chief Justice of Qom Province Since August 2019 

Evin Prison:

  1. ALI ASHRAF RASHIDI-AGHDAM: Deputy of Health and Correction and Education of Tehran Prisons General Administration Since August 2015
  2. GHOLAMREZA ZIAEI: Head of Evin Prison From July 2019 to June 2020
  3.  ALI CHAHARMAHALI: Head of Evin Prison from August 2016 to July 2019
  4. HAMID MOHAMMADI: Director of Evin prison from June 2020 to September 2021
  5. HASSAN GHOBADI:  Head of Evin Prison Security At least from March 2012
  6. SEYED-HOSSEIN MORTAZAVI-ZANJANI: Warden of Evin Prison From 1986 to 1988 
  7. MOHAMMAD MOGHISEH: Judge of the Evin Prison from 1989 to 1991 

Ghezel Hesar Prison

  1. ASHKAN KAMALI: Head of Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj Since August 2020
  2. HAMID MOHAMMADI: Director of Ghezel Hesar Prison From  2019, to June 2020
  3. MOHAMMAD MOGHISEH: Assistant judge of Ghezel Hesar Prison in 1985   1986 – 1988 Head and Judge of Rajaei-Shahr Prison in Karaj 

Rajaei-Shahr Prison (AKA Gohardasht Prison): 

  1. ALLAH KARAM AZIZI: The head of Rajaei-Shahr Prison From July 2019 to  August  2023
  2. GHOLAMREZA ZIAEI: Head of Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj From October 2017 to July 2019
  3. HAMID MOHAMMADI: Prior to his appointment as the director of Ghezel Hesar Prison, he was the director of Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj
  4.  ALI HAJI-KAZEMThe warden of Rajaei-Shahr Prison
  5. HAMID NOURY: Prison guard and assistant prosecutor of Rajaei-Shahr Prison Until 1991
  6. HASSAN GHOBADI:  Deputy health of Rajaei-Shahr Prison at least from January 2019
  7. SEYED-HOSSEIN MORTAZAVI-ZANJANI: Warden of Rajae-Shahr Prison From 1983 to 1986
  8. MOHAMMAD MOGHISEHHead and Judge of Rajaei-Shahr Prison From 1986  to 1988

Tehran Province Women’s Penitentiary (AKA Qarchak Prison in Varamin) 

  1. SOGHRA KHODADADI: Head of the Women’s Ward of Qarchak Prison Since December 2020

Mashhad Central Prison (AKA Vakil Abad Prison): 

  1. ALI ABDI: Head of Vakil Abad Prison From September 2019 to December 2021. And since December 2021 he is the deputy of Judiciary and Execution of Judgments of the General Administration of Khorasan Razavi Prisons Organization
  2. HADI ESMAIEL ZADEGAN: Acting and then Director of Vakil Abad Prison Since November 2021

General:
1. SEYED HESHMATOLLAH HAIATOLGHEIB:

  • Dorud city prison chief
  • Police Deputy of the General Directorate of Prisons in Lorestan Province
  • Deputy General Directorate of Prisons in Markazi Province
  • Deputy of the General Directorate of Prisons in Isfahan Province
  • Head of the Isfahan Central Prison (while maintaining the organizational position of deputy director general of prisons in Isfahan province)
  • Deputy of the General Directorate of Prisons in Isfahan Province
  • Head of the General Directorate of Prisons in Isfahan Province
  • 2011-2015: Director-General of Yazd Province Prisons
  • 2015- 2019: Director-General of Fars Province Prisons
  • July 2019 to August 2021 and again February 2022: Director-General of Tehran Province Prisons
  1. ALI CHAHARMAHALI:
  • Vice President of Health, Correctional and Education of Prisons in Tehran Province
  • 11 August 2016- 28 July 2019: Head of Evin Prison
  • 28 July 2019-16 February 2022: Head of Great Tehran Penitentiary
  • 16 February 2022-now: Director-General of Alborz Province Prisons
  1.  IRAJ FATTAHI: 
  • 2016- January 2023: Head of Karaj Central Penitentiary
  • January 2023: Vice President of Health, Correctional and Education Department of Prisons of Alborz Province
  1. ALI HAJI-KAZEM: 
  • Former head of Karaj Central Penitentiary
  • June 2005: the warden of Rajaei-Shahr prison
  • From February 2022: Special advisor to Alborz governor on prisons
  1. MOHAMMAD MAHDI HAJ-MOHAMMADI
  • 2019 – June 2020 Deputy Justice of Tehran Province
  • June 2020 – November 2021 Head of the State Prison and Security and Corrective Measures Organization
  • From July 2023: Head of the Judiciary Office of Special Inspection and Citizen Rights.
  1. MOHAMMAD-JAVAD ARDESHIR LARIJANI
  • June 2005 – January 2020 Secretary of the High Council for Human Rights of Judicial system of Islamic Republic
  1. GHOLAM-ALI MOHAMMADI
  • July 2005 – September 2020 Deputy Chief Justice of Tehran Province
  • September 2020 – November 2021 Deputy Head of the Judiciary chief office
  • Since November 2021: Head of the State Prison and Security and Corrective Measures Organization