The first state-enforced Hijab and Chastity Day in the Islamic Republic of Iran took place on Tuesday, July 12. A day earlier, judiciary chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei had delivered a speech calling for better “surveillance” of people opposed to forced veiling.
Speaking at a meeting of the Supreme Judiciary Council, Mohseni Ejei claimed “organized movements” directed by foreigners were mobilizing to “promote immorality in society”. The solution, he said, was joined-up working between prosecutors, bailiffs, and the intelligence system.
Even weeks before these statements, the enforcement of mandatory hijab had turned into a general offensive by Iran’s “morality patrols”. And in the days that led up to Ejei’s speech, a number of prominent figures in Iranian public life, including members of the “Mothers for Justice” movement and some of the country’s most famous filmmakers, were being arrested en masse.
All of this has come shortly at the close of a tumultuous month for the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization (IRGC-IO), which it appears is being relegated to a more secondary role behind its rival, the executive-controlled Intelligence Ministry. The judiciary is being encouraged by Ali Khamenei to “change the laws” to give intelligence agents a freer hand in arrests and suppressing dissent.
Acting Beyond the Law
On Monday afternoon, the Telegram channel of the IRGC’s Fars News Agency quoted an “informed official” as having said that “a number of agents of foreigners” who had met and conspired to “foment unrest”, and another Iranian said to have been a “conduit for foreign money to incite disorder”, had been arrested by “anonymous soldiers of the Hidden Imam” [the 12th Shia Imam, a mythic figure expected to return at the end of time].
By “anonymous soldiers” Fars was likely referring to the agents of the Intelligence Ministry, who under the law have no right to arrest anyone save for in very specific cases. In practice in an authoritarian state, this makes no difference.
The lawyer Musa Barzin Khalifehlou told IranWire: “The law specifies that intelligene agents can act as bailiffs in crimes related to smuggling national heritage artifacts, and financial crimes. In several cases the judiciary itself has been directly asked about this. says Khalifelou. “The judiciary has been asked directly about this on several occasions, and has said in no uncertain terms that the Intelligence Ministry cannot conduct arrests in security cases.”
Khalifelou added that in his view, Ejei’s statements on July 11 about “intelligence work” in connection with opposition to compulsory hijab was part of a wider “frame-up”: “What he means is, find and stitch up a group of people so the Ministry can say they’re promoting ‘bad hijab’ in an organized way. We’ve never had a group do this in Iran.”
More Power to the Intelligence Ministry, Less to the IRGC
The past month has seen fundamental changes made to the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization (IRGC-IO). The first step was the dismissal of Hossein Taeb, its head for 13 years, followed by Brigadier General Ebrahim Jabari from the command of the IRGC’s unit responsible for protecting the Supreme Leader. Ali Khamenei then appointed General Majid Khademi as the new head of IRGC’s Information Protection Unit. In short, “Team Taeb” – and the status quo – had been dismantled.
Even when reporting these changes, the Telegram channel Ammariyon, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, wrote that it would be better if the job of protecting high-level officials was handed back the Intelligence Ministry. The post was later removed but another that said the IRGC-IO was weak and “infiltrated” remained.
IranWire has learned some operators of the IRGC-IO in various cities have, in fact, now been transferred across to the Intelligence Ministry. And at the latest meeting of the Council for Intelligence Coordination, where Hossein Taeb was praised for his service, Taeb himself was not present.
The developments boost the standing of the Intelligence Ministry, the IRGC-IO’s rival, which also happens to be under the control of President Ebrahim Raisi. His government has sent a bill to parliament that would grand intelligence agents more powers, including the power to use firearms.
To Amend is Godlike
On June 28, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, gave a speech at the close of the IRGC-IO reshuffle. Addressing a group of judicial officials, he claimed: “God in the year 2022 is the same God as He was in 1981. If you don’t have laws [to take legal action for more restrictions], then who can provide such laws? You must provide such laws. Write bills and give them to the parliament to pass for you.”
He went on: “Sometimes, these same bailiffs have expert opinions… which must not be ignored. The judiciary must use these, whether they come from the police, the Intelligence Ministry or somewhere else.” Notably, he omitted to mention the IRGC-IO by name.