February 25, 2020 | Policy Brief

U.S. Sanctions Five Members of Iran’s Guardian Council

February 25, 2020 | Policy Brief

U.S. Sanctions Five Members of Iran’s Guardian Council

The Trump administration on Thursday sanctioned five officials who sit on Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, which screens parliamentary and presidential candidates to ensure their fidelity to Iran’s radical Islamist ideology. The move, which came a day before Iran’s parliamentary elections, lets the Iranian people know that America sees through the regime’s efforts to hide its dictatorship behind a democratic facade.

The new sanctions targeted Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the Guardian Council’s secretary; Mohammad Yazdi, who previously served as the chief of the Islamic Republic’s judiciary; Siamak Rahpeyk, the Guardian Council’s deputy head in charge of executive and election affairs; Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the Guardian Council’s deputy head and speaker; and Mohammad Hasan Sadeghi Moghadam, a senior advisor to Jannati.

These officials have played a key role in suppressing the voice of the Iranian people. In January, the Guardian Council rejected the applications of some 9,000 people out of the 14,000 who sought to run for parliament, according to a council spokesman. The ineligible contenders included 90 incumbent lawmakers.

Similarly, prior to the 2016 parliamentary election, the council nixed 5,894 of the 12,123 applicants. In the 2017 presidential election, 1,636 candidates, including 137 women, registered to compete; the council permitted only six men, including the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, to vie for the job.

Yet the disqualifications for the 2020 parliamentary election may set a new record. “In all 10 parliamentary elections since 1980,” stated Iran’s state-run Press TV last week, “the Guardian Council has rejected anywhere from 15 to 50 percent of candidates who registered to run, while this year’s purge is probably the biggest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.”

In effect, said Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, on Thursday, Tehran was staging “an event euphemistically called elections” and “denying the Iranian people a representative parliament by pre-deciding who is qualified to run for office.” He added, “The Iranian people know that tomorrow’s election is political theater.”

They demonstrated as much by refusing to vote. Turnout was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic, with only 43 percent of the electorate participating, according to Iran’s interior minister – down from 62 percent in 2016. However, given the regime’s history of inflating turnout data, the actual rate may have been even lower. In any event, low turnout paved the way for a landslide win by the most hardline candidates, who won 221 of the parliament’s 290 seats, while so-called reformists and moderates won 20 seats, down from 121 in the 2016 election.

Of the five Guardian Council members whom Washington sanctioned, Ayatollah Jannati stands out for his history of inflammatory statements. He has delivered sermons that include chants of “death to America” and “death to Israel”; described non-Muslims as “animals who roam the earth and engage in corruption”; dubbed U.S. troops in Iraq “bloodthirsty wolves” and expressed support for Shiite militias seeking to kill them; hosted Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as an honored guest; and demanded the execution of Iranian protestors, urging the judiciary in 2009 to show them no “compassion and leniency.”

After the Guardian Council announced the parliamentary disqualifications, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the decision. “People need diversity,” he said. But Rouhani’s words had no discernible impact, underscoring his impotence and insincerity. In this sense, as Hook said on Thursday, Tehran “likes to present a face of the regime that is very pleasing to Western audiences, but the beating heart of the regime are men like Ahmad Jannati.”

The Trump administration should build on its new sanctions by designating the remaining members of the Guardian Council, who are also complicit in Iran’s suppression of political candidates. In so doing, it can continue to call out Iran’s regime for the fraudulent theocracy that it is.

Tzvi Kahn is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Tzvi and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Tzvi on Twitter @TzviKahn. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Politics and Economy Iran Sanctions Sanctions and Illicit Finance