Iran’s highest prison official was removed from office by the head of the country’s judiciary after a violent raid occurred at Tehran’s largest prison facility. According to the semiofficial Fars news agency, the official, Gholam Hossein Esmaili, was “promoted” to a new position by a directive from the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani. Mr. Esmaili was given the title of director-general of the Justice Department in Tehran’s province.
A week earlier, foreign-based satellite news channels and opposition websites reported that security guards in Ward 350 had stormed the cellblock in a violent clash that left more than 30 detainees wounded. After domestic media outlets also began reporting the news, Iranian lawmakers demanded an investigation into the incident. In front of the office of President Hassan Rouhani, relatives of the detainees protested and demanded that the president intervene in the situation.
A day before he was reassigned, Mr. Esmaili repeated his denials of the attack on state television and showed a surveillance video that he claimed proved nothing out of the ordinary had happened in Evin Prison in Tehran. Mr. Esmaili said during his interview on state television that the inmates had used cellphones and tablets with Internet access that had been smuggled into the prison to communicate with foreign-based satellite channels.
Blaming the London-based channels for plotting to overthrow Iran’s Islamic leadership, Mr. Esmaili said that the inmates were contacting “leaders of networks and leading intermediaries of discord and anti-revolution networks,” instead of contacting their families. He continued on to say that the prison guards had been “polite,” and that “now, the British lie-fabricating machine and sedition media sources had only one choice, which was to lie and create ballyhoo.”
While many believe that the move was aimed at silencing critics, the removal was technically a promotion for Mr. Esmaili that would put him in charge of several high profile judicial cases. Saleh Nikbakht, a prominent lawyer in Iran, said, “Those who are familiar with the hierarchy of the judiciary system understand that this is a promotion. I have no further comment on whether this was done to please those criticizing the raid or not.”