Hardliner IRGC’s Commander becomes Iran’s Parliament Speaker

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by Dr. Reza Parchizadeh

Ghalibaf’s record of violation of human rights became much darker when he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Police Force in Iran by Khamenei…

The rubber-stamp Iranian Parliament (Majlis) recently elected Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf as chancellor. The appointment, despite the mainstream Western media’s insistence to the contrary, demonstrates a stiffening of the Islamist regime’s security and military stance towards domestic and international affairs.

Ghalibaf (b. 1961) used to be the commander of the IRGC Air Force, the commander-in-chief of the Police Force, and the mayor of Tehran. He is currently a member of the Expediency Council that is tasked with taking the most important decisions concerning the security interests of the Iranian regime. During his tenure in any one of the institutions mentioned above, Ghalibaf committed widespread violations of human rights.

As the commander of the IRGC Air Force, Ghalibaf was one of the prime movers behind the bloody suppression of the student uprising in July 1998. A few days into the Tehran University’s uprising against the regime, the Kayhan daily published a secret letter by a group of IRGC commanders to then-president Mohammad Khatami, which stated that the commanders were running out of patience with the situation. 

They had threatened that if the government did not control the unrest, they would take matters into their own hands. The name of Ghalibaf was at the top of the signatories. The weeklong uprising was eventually put down through sheer force, leading to the arrest and murder of a significant number of students.

Years later, during the presidential debates of 2013, Ghalibaf, who was a candidate clarified in a controversial statement that during the student protests of July 1999, he bludgeoned the protestors while riding a motorcycle. 

In his own words, “I wrote that letter to the president [Khatami] during the 1999 events of Tehran University. Actually, I and Mr. Soleimani [previous Quds Force commander] did. When they [protestors] started moving towards the Supreme Leader’s household, I was the commander of the IRGC Air Force. You can still see my picture on a motorcycle with a club in hand. I took to the street to pacify the protests. We will not hesitate when there is the need for us to go to the street and cudgel people. And we are proud. Never a moment did I think why a general and an air force commander should be in the street clubbing people.”

Ghalibaf’s record of violation of human rights became much darker when he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Police Force in Iran by Khamenei in the early 2000s. The “Moral Security Program” that he designed and executed was one of the harshest systematic measures ever taken against Iranian intelligentsia under the Islamic Republic. 

In line with that program, between 2002 and 2004, the police summoned dozens of intellectuals, journalists, political activists, website managers and bloggers and interrogated them or placed them under arrest. Under Ghalibaf’s auspices, the police force arranged a secret detention center in Tehran, where the detainees were subjected to abusive physical and psychological interrogation methods in order for them to make “confessions.”

In an enhancement of his previously mentioned cudgelling methods, during the post-presidential election protests of 2009, Ghalibaf played a more systematic role in suppressing the protesters. 

The Kahriazak Detention Center is a notorious place in the south of Tehran that was built under the command of Ghalibaf. The center was virtually unknown to the public until the mid-summer of 2009. It became scandalized worldwide during the post-election protests because a considerable number of the detained protestors were abused, tortured and killed in that place.

Ramin Pourandarjani, a medical doctor who at the time was doing his mandatory military service in the Kahrizak Detention Center, died in November 2009 under suspicious circumstances. After the scandal in Kahrizak had become public, Pourandarjani was charged with neglecting his duties. 

Government officials said the cause of his death was drug poisoning, while Ghalibaf said he had committed suicide. However, his family vehemently denied the official claims. The real reason for Pourandarjani’s death is believed to be testifying at court against the culprits – the police force – in Kahrizak.

Abdorreza Soodbakhsh, another medical doctor connected to Kahrizak, was assassinated in Tehran in September 2010. Soodbakhsh was a physician in the Kahrizak Detention Center at the time of the 2009 protests. He is said to have examined the dead bodies of the victims of torture and rape, but pressured by Ghalibaf’s police force and other authorities to declare meningitis as the cause of death. As Soodbakhsh would not get along with the official narrative, his liquidation became inevitable.

Given Ghalibaf’s gruesome history of violation of human rights in Iran, in 2013, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called on the international community to designate Ghalibaf, for what it described as “his broad role in human rights abuses,” as a major violator of human rights. The campaign also called for subjecting Ghalibaf to a travel ban and blocking his assets outside of Iran. 

In his first official speech as the Speaker of the 11th Majlis on Sunday, June 4, Ghalibaf strongly supported the Islamist regime’s military presence in Syria and Iraq, and called any negotiations with and compromises towards the United States “fruitless and harmful.” Emphasizing that the Majlis will continue the path of Major General Soleimani, the late commander-in-chief of the IRGC’s Quds Force, Ghalibaf stated that the Majlis is committed to supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

As for the Majlis’ approach towards the United States, Ghalibaf said that “The 11th Majlis believes in fighting the Global Arrogance as both a doctrinal ideal and a strategic interest, and considers negotiation with and compromise towards the Axis of Global Arrogance [USA] fruitless and harmful. Our strategy in dealing with the terrorist United States is to complete the revenge for the blood of Martyr Soleimani, which began with an unprecedented attack on the Ain al-Assad Airbase and will continue up to the US’ complete defeat. In the end, the United States will have to leave the region.”

Ghalibaf has a close relationship with the influential son of the Supreme Leader, Mojtaba, and enjoys the strong support of Khamenei’s household. As such, given the appointment of this military-minded major violator of human rights as the Speaker of Majlis, it becomes clear that the Iranian regime is going to tighten security at home and take a more clear aggressive stance towards the United States and its regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. War is brewing in the Middle East.

Dr. Reza Parchizadeh is a political theorist and analyst. His area of expertise is the Middle East, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia. He defended his doctoral dissertation at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) under the title “The Recurring Progress of English Political Thought in Shakespeare’s Histories,” with a concentration on political thought, history of ideas, philosophy of history, cultural studies and Shakespeare, and passed it with distinction.

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