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Iran's Supreme Leader Names New Hardline Judiciary Chief

As the Iranian judiciary prepares to try another wave of post-election protesters and opposition supporters, Sunday, government TV is announcing that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed a new hard-line head of the judiciary. The appointment was not unexpected, however.

The Iranian judiciary has taken a leading role in trying to quell opposition protests, with a series of recent trials of opposition leaders and protesters, and the nomination of a new judiciary chief will set the tone for where the process is heading.

Iranian government TV reports Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has named Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani as the new head of the judiciary to replace the stern-looking two-term veteran chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi.

Larijani is the younger brother of Iran's well-known parliament speaker Ali Larijani, and is currently a member of Iran's powerful electoral watchdog Guardian Council, which last month rejected charges of vote-rigging in the disputed June 12 presidential election.

Iranian TV paid tribute to outgoing judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, showing him presiding over a judicial oversight committee as well as meeting with ordinary employees of the judiciary.

Ayatollah Shahrudi insisted that he had made many administrative improvements, both technically and administratively during his tenure as head of the judiciary.

He says that he has tried to adopt new computer systems and information technology to the work of the Iranian judiciary, in addition to streamlining the bureaucracy.

The decree appointing Larijani to succeed Shahrudi came with a caveat from Ayatollah Khamenei, who insisted that "quick and easy justice be applied" by the judicial branch during his new tenure.

Ayatollah Khamenei has come under harsh criticism for the arbitrary imprisonment of opposition demonstrators, so the wording of the decree could be designed to appease opposition leaders.

Opposition head Mir Hossein Moussavi along with defeated reformist candidate Mahdi Karroubi have repeatedly condemned the abuse of prisoners, as well as what they have called "show-trials" of opposition supporters.

Mehrdad Khonsari of the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies says that the appointment of Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani was not unexpected, and that he doesn't think it is a response to criticism by the opposition over mistreatment of prisoners.

"This is not a surprise move," said Khonsari. "This had been announced before. Larijani's brother who is a mullah had already been appointed by [Ayatollah] Khamenei to replace [Ayatollah Shahrudi]. So, this is not because of the mitigating circumstances having to do with the ill-treatment of prisoners or other abuses of the judiciary."

Khonsari also does not think that the Iranian judiciary will change much under Sadeq Larijani, and that like his brother Ali, he isn't much of a moderate.

"The brother is not a moderate," said Khonsari. "He is a moderate amongst the hardliners, or he sounds moderate, but he is a very staunch supporter of Ayatollah Khamenei. Ali Larijani has clearly drawn a line in the sand as far as where he stands and I'm sure where his brother stands, regarding the people that are critical of the current administration."

"He supports everything that [Ayatollah] Khamenei has said … regarding Western interference in Iran, and his brother, I think, will follow suit, and be quite subservient to Khamenei's whims in the judiciary," he added.

Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani will be the third person to head the Iranian judiciary since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became Iran's supreme leader in 1989. His predecessors Ayatollah Shahrudi and Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi both served two five year terms.