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Thursday 27 April 2017


Azam Taleghani (center) arrives at the Iranian Interior Ministry on April 14 to register as a candidate in the country's presidential election.

In registering as a contestant in Iran's upcoming presidential election, Azam Taleghani is challenging a hard-line electoral council whose members have rejected all female candidates in the past.

On April 14, a tiny, frail-looking woman wearing a chador and using a walker made her way slowly up the stairs of Iran's Interior Ministry in Tehran.

Seventy-three-year-old Azam Taleghani was there to register as a candidate in the May 19 vote for Iran's presidency.

She's hoping the third time is the charm.

In 1997, Taleghani, then a 53-year-old editor and women's rights advocate, made history by becoming the first woman to register as a candidate for president.

The move was aimed at highlighting state discrimination in the Islamic republic, where no woman has ever been allowed to run for president.

"It is the fate of half of Iran's population that is at stake," she said then.

Taleghani was not allowed to run in 1997 -- or in 2009, when she tried again. No reasons were given.

Twenty years after her initial effort, Taleghani is the most prominent of the 137 women who have registered as candidates for the vote. She knows she is likely to be rejected once again.

Direct Challenge

Taleghani's move is again a direct challenge to hard-liners in control of the Guardians Council, the unelected body that is in charge of vetting candidates for presidential and parliamentary votes. The council has in the past rejected all female candidates, based on a strict interpretation of the country's constitution.

"Women make up 50 percent of the Iranian population, so the country deserves at least one female candidate," Taleghani told the German news agency dpa on April 17.

But Taleghani, the daughter of prominent revolutionary cleric Mahmud Taleghani, said she would not be "broken" by another rejection by the Guardians Council and that she would continue to fight for women's rights.

Speaking to journalists while registering her candidacy on April 14, Taleghani said she is pressing for a ruling on whether the Iranian Constitution truly bars female candidates from running for president. The controversy centers around the interpretation of a single word.

​"I've come so that the issue with political 'rejal' can be resolved," she said.

Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution says the president should be elected from among the "religious and political rejal." Rejal, which comes from Arabic, means "personalities."

Azam Taleghani has long been one of Iran's most active women's rights campaigners. (file photo)

Azam Taleghani has long been one of Iran's most active women's rights campaigners. (file photo)

Guardians Council members have ruled in the past that the word rejal refers exclusively to men.

But a spokesman for the council, Abbasali Kadkhodayi, said in December that it had not yet come to a conclusion regarding the issue of rejal for the May 19 vote.

"'Political personalities' in Arabic is an idiom that refers to personalities with expertise and managerial [experience] who are politically savvy," Taleghani said in an April 15 interview with the New York-based Center for Human Rights.

Taleghani, secretary-general of the Islamic Revolution Women's Society, said the Guardians Council has never officially announced the reason that it prevents women from running for president.

"The Guardians Council has never said the reason for the disqualification of women is that they're women, even though this has been the understanding of the majority in society," she said. "For example, in my case, [the council] can resort to my critical political activities to disqualify me."

'Clear Message'

Many are praising Taleghani for trying to run for president again, including Iran's vice president for women's affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi. She said Taleghani's move sends a clear message to all, "particularly men and the authorities, that they should also see the competent women of the country."

Others are criticizing Iran's media for largely ignoring Taleghani's possible candidacy.

Journalist Mehdi Babaei noted that none of Iran's daily newspapers covered Taleghani's registration on their front pages.

Taleghani has for years been among Iran's most active campaigners for women's rights, challenging hard-line interpretations of Islamic laws that limit the rights of women.

She was one of the first women to become a deputy in the Iranian parliament following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

For years, she edited the magazine Payam Hajar, which questioned issues such as polygamy and published articles in favor of more rights for women, including equal rights to inheritance. The magazine was shut down by the authorities in 2000 as part of a crackdown on the liberal and reformist press.

Outspoken Critic

In 2003, she launched a solo protest outside Evin prison in Tehran to protest the treatment of political prisoners following the death in custody of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.

She was also critical of the brutal state crackdown that followed the 2009 disputed reelection of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

And she has publicly condemned the house arrest of opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi, his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi.

The trio has been under arrest since 2011 for repeatedly challenging authorities over Ahmadinejad's reelection and for highlighting human rights abuses.

In a 2013 interview, the outspoken Taleghani said she believes that Iran's revolution has strayed from its original path to bring Iranians freedom and justice.

"The main principles of the revolution that were highlighted in slogans and were promised to people have not been achieved," she said.

And on April 18, Taleghani criticized some Iranian politicians for spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric, saying that they should "differentiate" between criticizing Israel's government and insulting Jews. She added that any denial of the Holocaust is the result of ignorance.

Shadi Sadr, a prominent women's rights activist who heads the London-based rights group Justice For Iran, says Taleghani has bravely used her position to repeatedly highlight the lack of political opportunities for women in Iran.

"She has been consistent and she has been also using her political background and that of her [father] to bring attention to this issue," Sadr told RFE/RL in a telephone interview.

She said that this year's image of Taleghani registering while using a walker was particularly powerful.

"The photo reminded us that [Taleghani] is now elderly. She suffers from ailments, and she has been pushing for [women to be able to run] for years," Sadr said. "Yet the discrimination is still here."

An unnamed cleric who registered for this month's presidential election in Iran says he would legalize opium if elected.

Despite having zero chance of getting on the ballot for May's presidential election, some Iranians insist on trying anyways.

Virtually anyone can register to run in Iran's presidential election.

The formal restrictions as laid out in the constitution are clear: potential candidates must be 18 or older; they must also be among the country's "religious and political personalities," hold Iranian citizenship, and believe in the principles of the Islamic republic and the official religion of the country.

But crucially, only a handful of applicants will actually be allowed on the ballot. And the 12-member Guardians Council that vets them has a long record of disqualifying liberal or reform-minded candidates, all women, and generally anyone it sees as a threat to the Iranian establishment.

One of the ways that many Iranians try to highlight that gap -- between registering and really running -- is to apply in large numbers during the current five-day registration period (April 11-15).

Many of those applicants have no political experience and zero chance of being approved. Here are some of the Iranians whose candidacies are aimed at making one point or another. They include two former political prisoners, several women, a Basij militia member widely known for never missing a state-organized demonstration, an Iranian-American, and a factory guard.


Publisher, blogger, and ophthalmologist Mehdi Khazali, who has been jailed several times in the past over his criticism of the Iranian establishment, pledged to work to eliminate hostility with the West if elected.

Mehdi Khazali

Mehdi Khazali

"We must seek to remove tension with the entire world," he said, according to AP. "Relations based on mutual positive interaction must be established."

Khazali also said that four years ago he supported President Hassan Rohani, adding that he has changed his mind because his is now convinced that Rohani is not a "reformist."

Ghassem Sholeh Sadi, a former lawmaker and professor of international relations jailed in the past for "insulting" Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, registered in a suit and a tie, which is considered by many Iranian conservatives to be a symbol of Western decadence. Sholeh Sadi was quoted by the news site as saying that there is nothing anti-Islamic about ties.

Ghassem Sholeh Sadi

Ghassem Sholeh Sadi

"If a tie is a reason for disqualification, it should be noted in the laws," he said. Sholeh Saadi has registered (and failed) to run for president in the past.

Iranian-American Academic

Houshang Amirahmadi

Houshang Amirahmadi

Houshang Amirahmadi, a professor of public policy and international development at Rutgers University, once told the hard-line Fars news agency that, if elected, he would focus on creating a strong national economy and more jobs for the country's youth. Amirahmadi also registered unsuccessfully for the 2013 presidential vote.


Azam Jabali

Azam Jabali

Azam Jabali was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency as saying that she is registering -- and will keep doing so -- in order to convince authorities that women should be allowed to run. She said her campaign slogan is "Once Women." This year, Jabali was the second woman to register for the vote.


Hassan Seyedkhani and twin brother Hossein

Hassan Seyedkhani and twin brother Hossein

Hassan Seyedkhani showed up to register alongside his twin brother, Hossein. He said he put his name forward to raise the visibility of young people. Hassan was also quoted by Iranian media as saying that, if elected, he would appoint his twin brother as foreign minister. As for Hossein, he said he refrained from registering out of respect for his brother, who, he said, is his elder by two minutes.

Government Fanboy

Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi

Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi

Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi is an establishment devotee known as "Big Mouth Basiji." He gained public attention for his omnipresence at state-organized demonstrations, where he is often seen, his fist raised, shouting slogans enthusiastically.

Factory Guard

Abolghassem Khaki

Abolghassem Khaki

Abolghassem Khaki is a guard at a factory in the central province of Yazd who says he plans to travel to the United States and swim a race against U.S. President Donald Trump. Khaki said that his plans also include providing housing to young Iranians. He boasted that he had already prepared a list of cabinet members.

A 3-Year-Old

A man from the southeastern Kerman Province arrived at the Interior Ministry in Tehran to register his 3-year-old daughter to launch her political career, the hard-line Tasnim news agency reported. Authorities refused to register the little girl.

Opium And Polygamy

An unnamed cleric

An unnamed cleric

A cleric who reported having five wives and 18 children said upon registering said that if elected, he would legalize opium. "Opium is a medicine; it's not banned under Shari'a law," he was quoted as saying. "There won't be so many executions if opium is legalized." He also said that he wouldn't need presidential bodyguards.

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.