Iran’s most senior judiciary official has announced that people who give interviews to foreign media could face harsh punishment after rape victims gave interviews to Voice of America’s Persian-language TV network.

On Monday, October 24, he announced that anyone found to be cooperating with or giving interviews to media outlets that authorities deem to be in opposition to the values of the Islamic Republic of Iran would be considered to be guilty of “giving assistance to a crime.” 

On October 14, Voice of America (VOA) broadcast phone interviews with several young Iranian boys who said they had been raped by a famous Koran reciter. 

Saeed Tousi, who works and teaches for the Koran High Council as an expert in adolescent affairs, was named as the defendant in the rape case, and was alleged to have raped the boys, all of whom were his students.  

The state-run Koran High Council was founded in 1991 and functions under the supervision of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Ali Moghadam, president of the council, is also deputy head of public relations at Khamenei’s office.

 Koran reciter Saeed Tousi is accused of raping his students

According to the victims’ accounts, Saeed Tousi took advantage of young students he was supposed to be offering support to, discussing private sexual matters with them before raping them, often in public bathhouses or hotel rooms. Victims filed their original complaints against Tousi in 2011, but Ali Moghadam interfered in the judicial process, thereby protecting Tousi and saving him from the consequences of his actions.

In 2012, Tousi signed a letter in the presence of Ali Moghadam stating that he repented for his actions. He promised there would be no further instances of sexual harassment. In most courts of law, such a letter would serve as evidence of guilt and wrongdoing. But not only did the letter protect Tousi from any punishment, it did not appear to signal the stopping point for Tousi’s abuse. According to plaintiffs in the case against the Koranic expert, the rapes and abuse continued, and students were left vulnerable to his predatory actions. 

 Ali Moghadam, president of the Koran Supreme Council

Only “Moral” Corruption?

So why does the office of the supreme leader continue to protect Tousi? Over the last five years, Khamenei’s office has repeatedly interfered in the judicial process against Tousi, arranging for him to be cleared of charges of rape despite the judiciary’s spokesman saying that a case accusing him of “encouraging moral corruption” remains open. Officials have not explained or defined the vaguely-worded charge, but Tousi’s alleged victims say that when they accompanied Tousi on trips, he showed them pornographic videos and magazines and tried to arouse them by talking about sex.

The case against Saeed Tousi is especially significant because so many religious families are involved. Khamenei’s office routinely invites Tousi and other prominent Koran reciters to attend key ceremonies, and Tousi recited passages from the Koran at the official opening of this year’s parliament. Photographs of friendly meetings between Tousi and the supreme leader are readily available. 

Such meetings and ceremonies show the high level of trust shown to Tousi by Iran’s most influential clerics. The case, of course, is much more than a set of accusations against one man: it involves the High Koran Council, the office of the supreme leader, and Iran’s judiciary.

Over the last five years, despite repeated accusations of sexual harassment, the High Koran Council has continued to invite Tousi to official ceremonies. The council is also responsible for organizing an annual ceremony during which Koran reciters meet with the supreme leader. Since 2011, Tousi has been invited at least twice to these ceremonies, and at least once, he was asked to recite the Koran in the presence of Ayatollah Khamenei. On October 24, following increasing media attention on the case, the council removed Tousi’s profile from its website, but as yet it has refused to come forward with an official explanation.

Tousi himself issued an statement and dismissed all charges as “lies”. But remarks by judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei confirm that at least four people have filed complaints against Tousi, and the case against him for promoting moral corruption remains open. At the same time, the plaintiffs have released an audio file in which Tousi says that the supreme leader has ordered the head of the judiciary to close the case.

On October 24, the chief of the judiciary Sadegh Larijani denied that he had been ordered to close the case. Taking into account Larijani’s angry response to these claims and his threats to prosecute anyone who speaks to the international media about the case, and given the number of high profile individuals indirectly drawn into the scandal, it is unlikely that Saeed Tousi will stand trial.

Certainly, the plaintiffs now say they have lost any hope that justice will be done — which is why they turned to the media in the first place. Now that international media has taken note, the victims may face further injustice, as they potentially face prosecution for speaking out.

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