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Blame The U.S. -- Not The Government -- For Iran's Problems, Rohani Says

Iranian President Hassan Rohani
Iranian President Hassan Rohani

The United States, not the Iranian leadership, should be blamed for the country’s economic difficulties, Iran’s President Hassan Rohani has said.

Rohani said on January 30 that Iran was facing “the biggest pressure and economic sanctions in the past 40 years,” according to the presidential website.

“Our problems are primarily because of pressure from America and its followers. And the dutiful government and Islamic system should not be blamed,” he also said in a speech at an annual ceremony of allegiance to the late founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Rohani ended his address with a call for "unity," saying Khomeini’s main concern was not foreign forces but domestic "discord."

Rohani made the comments as Iran prepares to mark on February 11 the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that brought the current, clerically dominated regime to power.

This year’s celebrations come amid growing economic hardships after the United States last year pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.

The value of the country's currency, the rial, has fluctuated dramatically in recent months, making it difficult for many Iranians to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, workers including truck drivers, farmers, and merchants have launched sporadic protests that have occasionally led to confrontations with security forces.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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At Cannes, Director Rasoulof Discusses Decision To Flee Iran

 Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof (file photo)
Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof (file photo)

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof recalled how he had to decide within hours whether to go into exile or serve a prison sentence, saying it was still difficult to talk about it during a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival on May 25. Rasoulof was in town for the premiere of his new drama The Seed Of The Sacred Fig almost two weeks after fleeing Iran in the wake of his sentencing to eight years in prison and flogging. "I had to say to myself, well, do I want to be in prison, or should I leave Iran, geographic Iran, and join the cultural Iran that exists beyond its borders?" he said "It's not an easy decision to take."

Key Iranian Assembly Elects 93-Year-Old Conservative As Its Leader

Mohammad Movahedi Kermani, 93, was elected the head of Iran's Assembly of Experts.
Mohammad Movahedi Kermani, 93, was elected the head of Iran's Assembly of Experts.

Mohammad Movahedi Kermani, 93, has been elected the head of Iran's Assembly of Experts, marking a continuation of traditional conservative leadership in a key institution responsible for selecting the nation's supreme leader.

The decision came during the Assembly's first session of its sixth term and follows the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in a helicopter crash last weekend.

The Assembly of Experts is a clerical body with significant power within the Islamic republic’s constitution.

Comprising 88 members, all of whom are male Islamic scholars, the Assembly not only elects the supreme leader but also theoretically oversees and could dismiss him, although this power has never been exercised.

Members are elected to eight-year terms from a list approved by the Guardian Council, ensuring that all candidates align closely with the conservative religious and political establishment.

Movahedi Kermani won the leadership with 55 votes out of 83 present members. His election underlines the notable age gap between the assembly's members and the general population, a point of frequent criticism by reformist opponents who argue there is a disconnect between Iran’s leadership and the issues that contemporary society are concerned about.

In addition to Movahedi Kermani’s election, Hashem Hosseini Bushehri and Alireza Arafi were elected as first and second vice-presidents, respectively.

The leadership election comes at a critical time for Iran.

With Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, 85, facing questions about his health and the future direction of the country, the role of the Assembly of Experts is poised to take a more prominent role.

Speculation has been rife about potential successors for Khamenei, with some expecting that the assembly might soon need to undertake its constitutional duty to appoint a new leader.

According to a Reuters report dated May 20, the assembly recently had removed Raisi, who died in a May 19 helicopter crash in northwestern Iran, from the list of potential successors to Ali Khamenei six months prior.

The report quoted two sources familiar with the matter as saying the Assembly of Experts had taken Raisi off the list about six months ago “because of his sagging popularity, reflecting economic hardship caused by U.S. sanctions and mismanagement."

However, the sources also indicated that there had since been significant lobbying by influential clerics and Raisi's supporters to get him back on the list.

For years, there also has been ongoing speculation regarding the potential selection of Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the future leader of the Islamic republic.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Slain Iranian Protester's Father Sentenced To 6 Years In Prison

Mashalla Karami, the father of executed protester Mohammad Mehdi Karami (file photo)
Mashalla Karami, the father of executed protester Mohammad Mehdi Karami (file photo)

Iran’s judiciary has sentenced Mashallah Karami, the father of executed protester Mohammad Mehdi Karami, to six years in prison on charges of endangering national security and "propaganda against the regime."

The human rights groups HRANA and Hengaw reported the verdict, which was handed down by the Karaj Revolutionary Court.

His lawyer, Ali Sharifzadeh Ardakani, said Karami has yet to receive the court's decision officially.

Additionally, he rejected accusations of fraud against his client on social media platforms, noting that related charges of money laundering and acquiring illicit wealth are still under review with no verdicts rendered so far.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami was one of nine individuals executed by the Islamic republic in relation to the protests of 2022, which saw widespread unrest over governmental policies.

His execution in January 2023, which was tied to the alleged murder of a Basij militia member during the nationwide upheaval, drew international condemnation and highlighted the Iranian government's strict crackdown on dissent.

The sentence handed to Mashallah Karami also appears to be part of a pressure campaign on families of executed protesters.

Mashallah Karami has been a vocal figure in the protest movement, often seen at his son's grave in acts of remembrance that have symbolized the broader struggle for justice in Iran.

The government has been accused of stepping up the pressure on the victims' families through collective arrests and the summoning of grieving families by security agencies with the aim of keeping them from commemorating the lives of their loved ones, which the government fears will trigger further unrest.

Karami's arrest and subsequent sentencing also underline the risks faced by those who continue to oppose the regime.

Many Iranians took to the streets in 2022 to protest against declining living standards and a lack of freedoms.

The unrest grew after the death of Mahsa Amini in September of that year. The 22-year-old died under mysterious circumstances while she was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

The clampdown has resulted in the deaths of approximately 600 demonstrators, as reported by human rights groups, and thousands of arrests.

The Iranian judiciary has also executed several protesters, further inflaming public outcry against the regime's harsh tactics.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Popular Iranian Rapper Tataloo Sentenced To Prison On Undisclosed Charges

Amirhossein Maghsoudloo, aka Tataloo, (right) in court earlier this month.
Amirhossein Maghsoudloo, aka Tataloo, (right) in court earlier this month.

Amirhossein Maghsoudloo, a popular Iranian rapper known by his stage name Tataloo, has been sentenced to prison, his lawyer and Iranian judiciary media reported, although specific details about the length of his sentence remain undisclosed.

Tataloo's attorney, Elham Rahimifar, informed the semiofficial ISNA news agency that the rapper faces both short and long-term imprisonment based on a recent verdict, which is still subject to appeal.

The charges and the details of the conviction have not been disclosed by the judiciary media or his lawyer.

The proceedings against Tataloo were overseen by Judge Iman Afshari and took place over three sessions.

According to the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, the rapper was sentenced to three years in jail in relation to an older case of "insulting the sacred," a charge that can encompass a range of perceived offenses, from blasphemy to disrespecting Iran's Islamic values.

Mizan also noted that no private individuals have filed complaints against Tataloo in this particular case, although the agency had earlier claimed that there were "multiple complaints" against him, including from minors and their families.

Tataloo's trial began in March on charges of promoting "obscenity," publishing "propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran," and disseminating "obscene content."

In a statement last month, the case investigator mentioned Tataloo's expression of "regret," stating that the rapper had written a repentance letter while also expressing his desire to marry, start a family, and pursue music in a more accepted manner.

The rapper, known for blending rap, pop, and R&B, and for his distinctive tattoos, has been a polarizing figure in Iran.

He previously released a song in support of Iran's nuclear rights, which coincided with the breakdown of a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

Tataloo, 36, had been living in Istanbul since 2018 but was extradited to Iran by Turkish authorities in December 2024. He has been detained in Iran since his extradition.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iranian President's Death Could Trigger 'Power Competition' For Next Supreme Leader

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left) was believed to have groomed President Ebrahim Raisi (right) to succeed him. (file photo)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left) was believed to have groomed President Ebrahim Raisi (right) to succeed him. (file photo)

The sudden death of President Ebrahim Raisi has thrown a wrench in the succession plans of Iran's elderly supreme leader.

The ultraconservative Raisi was a longtime protege of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was widely believed to be grooming the former judiciary chief as his successor.

Raisi's demise has boosted the prospects of other contenders, including Khamenei's own son, landing the most coveted job in the Islamic republic.

With no obvious front-runner to be the next supreme leader, Raisi's death in a helicopter crash on May 19 is likely to trigger a power struggle among members of the country's clerical establishment, experts say.

"If Khamenei can't control this power competition, then he might have to face a basic reality of the succession issue becoming a destabilizing factor for the regime while he is, in fact, still alive," said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran Program at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

Who Are The Likely Contenders?

The 88-seat Assembly of Experts, whose members are elected for eight-year terms, is tasked with appointing the next supreme leader.

Dominated by hard-liners, the clerical body has been secretive about potential successors to the 85-year-old Khamenei, who became the supreme leader in 1989 after the death of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

A three-man panel in the assembly keeps a list of possible successors that has reportedly not even been seen by other members.

Some experts say Raisi's death has boosted the chances of Mojtaba Khamenei, a cleric and the supreme leader's second son.

Mojtaba Khamenei (center) lacks administrative experience and will likely face allegations of nepotism if he succeeds his father.
Mojtaba Khamenei (center) lacks administrative experience and will likely face allegations of nepotism if he succeeds his father.

The 55-year-old has shunned the limelight but is believed to have considerable influence behind the scenes and close ties with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which plays a prominent military, political, and economic role in Iran.

But the younger Khamenei is seen as lacking the leadership skills and religious credentials for the post. He is widely referred to as a hojatoleslam, a title that refers to mid-ranking clerics, although a news agency affiliated with seminaries has since 2022 called him an ayatollah, an honorific title reserved for high-ranking clerics.

In February, a member of the Assembly of Experts said the supreme leader was opposed to hereditary rule, which would appear to rule out the younger Khamenei.

"The optics of having a son succeed his father perhaps resembles the optics of a monarchy," said Farzan Sabet, a senior research associate at the Geneva Graduate School.

The Islamic Revolution in 1979 saw clerics loyal to Khomeini overthrow the U.S.-backed shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Sabet said the younger Khamenei is still likely to "play an important role in a future iteration of the Islamic republic."

Another cleric who is believed to be in contention for the role of supreme leader is Ayatollah Alireza A'rafi. The 67-year-old is close to Khamenei and serves as one of two deputy chiefs of the Assembly of Experts.

While not a household name, Alireza A'rafi is known to be close to Khamenei.
While not a household name, Alireza A'rafi is known to be close to Khamenei.

In 2020, Khamenei appointed A'rafi as the head of all of Iran's seminaries, suggesting that he meets the religious criteria to become the next supreme leader.

A'rafi is not a household name and lacks name recognition, but that does not necessarily hurt his chances.

"Something we have to note about high-level leadership positions in the Islamic republic...is that a candidate may often emerge from, let's say, relative obscurity," Sabet said.

IRGC Playing Kingmaker

Analysts say the IRGC is likely to play a key role in picking Khamenei's successor in an effort to protect its interests.

Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said Raisi was the ideal candidate for the IRGC because he was a "malleable yes-man devoid of independent ideas."

"Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Revolutionary Guards must now try to identify an individual as artless as the late President Raisi," Alfoneh said.

In the early 1980s, Khomeini appointed Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri as his deputy. But they fell out and the latter was cast side and his position abolished.

In 2018, amid rumors of Khamenei's poor health, there was talk of reestablishing the position of deputy supreme leader but it led nowhere.

"This unwillingness to share the stage with anyone else -- in fear of losing his authority -- has kept everyone guessing about who might succeed Khamenei," Vatanka said.

"Khamenei's ambiguity around the succession issue is more likely now to be a liability for him than an asset."

Updated

Iran Buries President Raisi In His Hometown

The last day of funeral ceremonies for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi commenced on May 23 in the eastern city of Birjand.
The last day of funeral ceremonies for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi commenced on May 23 in the eastern city of Birjand.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was laid to rest in his home city of Mashhad on May 23 as many thousands of mourners packed the streets ahead of the burial ceremony.

Raisi was buried next to the mausoleum of the eighth Shi’ite Imam Reza, an important Shi’ite site, state broadcaster IRIB reported.

Ceremonies that preceded the burial commenced earlier in the eastern city of Birjand, where thousands of black-clad people marched along the main avenue holding portraits of the president and others killed in a weekend helicopter crash.

Throngs of mourners accompanied Raisi's casket draped in the Iranian flag and placed on a platform truck that also displayed a sign reading, "This is the shrine" before the ceremonies were to move to Mashhad.

Although thousands of people joined the procession, the attendance was lower than on other similar occasions, a likely indication of a deepening rift between the country's Islamic theocracy and ordinary citizens frustrated by the increasing repression of their rights and declining living standards.

New Pictures And Account Emerge Of Raisi Crash As Thousands Attend Funeral
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Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who was also killed in the helicopter crash, was buried on May 23 in the Shah Abdul Azim shrine in the city of Rey, just south of Tehran. Ahead of the burial, Iranian officials and foreign diplomats paid their respects to Amir-Abdollahian at a ceremony in Tehran.

A day earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led funeral prayers in Tehran, where thousands attended a funeral procession.

Some reports said Tehran residents received mobile phone messages urging them to attend the funeral procession.

Khamenei presided over the start of the ceremony, where he delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi and then left the ceremony without giving a speech. Iran's acting president, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, was also in attendance.

Several foreign dignitaries attended, including Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, and a delegation from Afghanistan's Taliban rulers led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi.

No Western leaders attended. Three former Iranian presidents -- Mohammad Khatami, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Rohani -- were also not seen among dignitaries in attendance.

A presidential election to determine Raisi's successor was announced for June 28. The election is to be organized by a council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister.

Analyst Mehdi Khalaji, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that no matter who will become the next president, Iran's future leadership will not be endured by one person, but the regime will try to form a "special joint leadership stock company."

The ceremonies marking the deaths of those involved in the crash started on May 21 in the city of Tabriz, the capital of Iran's northwestern province of East Azerbaijan where the crash occurred, and the Shi'ite clerical center of Qom.

Beyond the official display of public grief, many Iranians who have been victims of acts of repression by Raisi and the Iranian regime or had relatives who suffered from such acts were adamant in voicing their satisfaction at Raisi's death.

A woman who lost 11 relatives, including two daughters, in executions allegedly coordinated by Raisi in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating his death.

"Truly, I cannot express how limitless my happiness is," Esman Vatanparast said. "When Raisi became president, it was very difficult for us hurting mothers, the survivors of the massacres committed by him."

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and had tightened many restrictions on Iranians through the enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code on head scarves.

Thousands of people, including protesters, journalists, lawyers, athletes, and artists have been arrested and at least 500 people have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on the protests.

Raisi also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Raisi's has pushed back nuclear negotiations to improve Iran's cooperation with the agency.

"Now Iran is in a period of mourning and it should be respected, but when this period is over, we want to re-engage with Iran to improve cooperation," Rafael Grossi said on May 22 in Helsinki.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Turkey Claims Its Drone Was Instrumental In Finding Wreckage Of Iranian Helicopter

An Akinci drone made by Turkey (file photo)
An Akinci drone made by Turkey (file photo)

Turkey says its Akinci drone deserves more credit for helping to locate the wreckage of the Iranian helicopter that crashed in a remote and mountainous area of Iran on May 19, killing President Ebrahim Raisi and other top Iranian officials, according to Turkish media reports on May 22.

The reports say that the Akinci drone was first to find the site of the wreckage and accused Iran of changing its narrative about the use of the Turkish equipment after it provided information about the location of the wreckage and then made counterclaims that its own drone found the site.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this week that the Akinci drone was sent at the request of the Iranian government.

According to Erdogan, despite the bad weather conditions the drone was able to conduct search operations in the region for seven and a half hours and fly a total of 2,100 kilometers.

After the Turkish drone identified the helicopter wreckage and detected heat sources believed to be the crash site in Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province, the Iranian search team successfully located the downed helicopter and the bodies of Raisi and the others in the mountainous terrain, according to Turkish media reports.

However, Iran rejected the notion that there was foreign participation in the search operation despite data from the Turkish drone that revealed the coordinates of the crash, and confirmation of this data by some Iranian news agencies.

After the Akinci drone captured images of the wreckage using its night vision and thermal camera and released them on the Internet, Pirhossein Kolivand, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, called foreign participation in the search a rumor.

“We did not stop the search in the dark, fog, and rain, and when we discovered the wreckage of the helicopter with our own drone, we moved to the exact place where the helicopter fell," Kolivand said.

He claimed that rescuers from the Red Crescent found the wreckage at an altitude of 2,500 meters and "it took 40 minutes from the time of finding the wreckage of the helicopter to reaching the accident site.”

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But during the overnight search, the Red Crescent said in a statement at around 4 a.m. local time on May 20 that after the Turkish drone identified two potential “hot spots” the Red Crescent rescue teams headed toward the sites.

The head of the East Azerbaijan Red Crescent also cited the Turkish drone report that a “burning spot” had been detected and said rescue forces were sent to that area.

The head of Turkey, Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies at the Institute for International Relations and Strategic Research (ULISA) said in an opinion piece published by the state news agency Anadolu that the drone’s role in finding the wreckage site demonstrated the need to recognize Turkey’s commitment to fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities through its defense capacity.

Professor M. Nazmul Islam said that, after Iran accepted Turkey’s offer to send the drone, the Akinci took off from a Turkish base at around 11:30 p.m. local time and began searching nearly an hour later. Turkey claims that it transmitted the image of the wreckage of the helicopter at 3:06 a.m. Iranian time and shared the coordinates with the Iranian authorities.

But according to Iranian media accounts, an Iranian drone belonging to the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps found the remains of the helicopter at around 5:30 a.m. local time.

A statement issued by Iran's military said that, despite Turkey sending a drone equipped with night vision and thermal cameras, it "failed to accurately locate the crash site due to its lack of detection equipment and control points below the cloud," referring to the adverse weather conditions.

Iran Radio reported that it was “five o'clock in the morning when the correct coordinates were finally found with Iranian equipment and Iranian relief forces.”

Iran, whose military has its own drone program, was not able to deploy its drones because they were located in the northern part of the Indian Ocean at the time, the Iranian military said. Western powers have accused Iran of providing drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

With reporting by Anadolu and Reuters

New Pictures And Account Emerge Of Raisi Crash As Thousands Attend Funeral

New Pictures And Account Emerge Of Raisi Crash As Thousands Attend Funeral
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As thousands attended a funeral procession in Tehran, new images and an official account of the final flight of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have emerged. Raisi and seven others died when their helicopter crashed in northwestern Iran on May 19.

Updated

Khamenei Prays Over Coffins At Funeral For Raisi, Others Killed In Helicopter Crash

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (center) and other clerics pray over the coffins of President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in Tehran on May 22.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (center) and other clerics pray over the coffins of President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in Tehran on May 22.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led prayers in Tehran at the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on May 22 as thousands attended a procession for Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and other officials killed in a helicopter crash over the weekend.

Khamenei presided over the start of the ceremony at a time of deepening crisis between the country's Islamic leadership and many citizens over a lack of freedoms and declining living standards. He delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi and then left the ceremony without giving a speech.

Khamenei delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi at the ceremony on May 22, three days after the accident in a remote, mountainous area of the country's northwest. Khamenei then left without giving a speech.

Crowds reached out to touch the caskets during the procession as Iran's acting president, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, stood nearby.

Besides Iran's top leaders, including the chiefs of the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, several foreign dignitaries attended, including Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, and a delegation from Afghanistan's Taliban rulers led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi.

No Western leaders attended. Three former Iranian presidents -- Mohammad Khatami, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Rohani -- were also not seen among dignitaries in attendance.

After the ceremony, the caskets of Raisi and the other victims of the crash were carried out on the shoulders of people onto a platform truck amid chants of "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" from the crowds.

Some reports said Tehran residents received mobile phone messages urging them to attend the funeral procession, which headed toward Freedom Square in central Tehran.

The caskets were draped in Iranian flags with pictures of the deceased on them, while on Raisi's casket, a black turban was placed to mark his alleged direct descendance from Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Although Egypt and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to Tehran to attend the funeral. Tehran and Cairo have recently floated the possibility of reestablishing relations, which were cut after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing was to attend the memorial service, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, was also seen in live footage as attending. Iran has armed and supported Hamas during the ongoing war with Israel in Gaza. Sheikh Naim Qassem, the deputy leader of Hizballah, Iran's Lebanese proxy, was also present.

A presidential election to determine Raisi's successor was announced for June 28. The election is to be organized by a council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president.

According to Iranian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister.

WATCH: A woman who lost 11 relatives in executions in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating Raisi's death. Raisi was accused of being on a "death committee" that ordered mass executions at the time.

As Raisi Funeral Ceremonies Begin, Mother Of Executed Iranians Celebrates
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The ceremonies marking the deaths of those involved in the crash started on May 21 with tens of thousands of mourners in attendance in the city of Tabriz, the capital of Iran's northwestern province of East Azerbaijan where the crash occurred, and the Shi'ite clerical center of Qom.

Beyond the official display of public grief, many Iranians who have been victims of acts of repression by Raisi and the Iranian regime or had relatives who suffered from such acts were adamant in voicing their satisfaction at Raisi's death.

A woman who lost 11 relatives, including two daughters, in executions allegedly coordinated by Raisi in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating his death.

"Truly, I cannot express how limitless my happiness is," Esman Vatanparast said. "When Raisi became president, it was very difficult for us hurting mothers, the survivors of the massacres committed by him."

The White House, too, had harsh words for Raisi.

U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "no question, this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands" for supporting extremist groups in the Middle East.

U.S. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said Raisi's rule was "barbaric" and marked by "terror, danger, and oppression."

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and had tightened many restrictions on Iranians through the enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code on head scarves.

Thousands of people, including protesters, journalists, lawyers, athletes, and artists have been arrested and at least 500 people have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on the protests.

Raisi also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the death of Raisi has pushed back nuclear negotiations to improve Iran's cooperation with the agency.

"Now Iran is in a period of mourning and it should be respected, but when this period is over, we want to re-engage with Iran to improve cooperation," Rafael Grossi said on May 22 in Helsinki.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Director Mohammad Rasoulof, Who Fled Iran, Will Attend Cannes

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran, is expected to attend the Cannes Film Festival.
Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran, is expected to attend the Cannes Film Festival.

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who made a dramatic on-foot escape from Iran, will attend the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of his new movie, organizers told AFP on May 21. The award-winning director will be on the French Cote d'Azur on May 24 when The Seed Of The Sacred Fig competes for the top prize Palme d'Or, festival director Thierry Fremaux said. An outspoken critic of the Iranian government, Rasoulof served two terms in Iranian jails over previous films and had his passport revoked in 2017. His new film tells the story of a judge's struggles amid political unrest in Tehran. He had come under pressure from the Iranian government to withdraw it from Cannes before the festival opened.

'A Symbol Of Murder Gone': Families Of Victims Of Mass Executions Express Relief After Iranian President's Death

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19, is accused of sending political dissidents to their deaths in 1988.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19, is accused of sending political dissidents to their deaths in 1988.

Esmat Vatanparast lost 11 members of her extended family during the mass executions of political prisoners and regime opponents in Iran in the 1980s.

For the last three decades, the elderly Vatanparast has been grieving and seeking justice for the deaths of her family members, including her two daughters and three brothers.

On May 19, when President Ebrahim Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran, Vatanparast says she obtained a semblance of justice.

Raisi allegedly played a role in the estimated execution of at least 5,000 members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), students, and leftist political parties and groups during the summer of 1988.

"My happiness has no limits," Vatanparast, who fled to Sweden after the massacre, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on May 20, the day Raisi's death was confirmed. "Today is a beautiful day for the people of Iran."

Raisi, known as the "butcher of Tehran," was accused of serving as a prosecutor on a "death committee" that ordered the executions. Many were executed in prisons, including in the Iranian capital's notorious Evin prison.

As Raisi Funeral Ceremonies Begin, Mother Of Executed Iranians Celebrates
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Vatanparast said it was "very difficult" for the families of the victims of the massacre to witness the rise of Raisi, a former judiciary chief who became president following a controversial election in 2021.

"I want to congratulate all the mothers and fathers whose children were killed by the Islamic republic and couldn't say or do anything," said Vatanparast, who is in her 80s.

The mass killing was ordered by the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

In a fatwa, or religious decree, Khomeini declared that "apostates" and those who had taken up arms against the Islamic republic were "waging war against God" and should be sentenced to death. Some estimates of those executed run into the tens of thousands.

The fatwa was issued in the last days of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, during which members of the MKO switched sides and fought alongside Iraqi forces.

Only one Iranian has been convicted and jailed over the mass executions. Hamid Nouri, a former Iranian prison official, was sentenced to life in prison in Sweden in 2022 for his role in the massacre.

'Death Of This Executioner'

Mehdi Aslani was a former member of the leftist Fadayian-e Khalq organization who served time in Gohardasht prison near Tehran and Evin prison.

Aslani survived the mass executions in 1988 and then fled to Germany. He testified during Nouri's trial in Sweden.

"I'm happy at this moment because a symbol of murder is gone," the former political prisoner told Radio Farda. "I would be lying if I said the news of the death of this executioner did not bring me joy."

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right) issued a fatwa ordering the execution of "apostates" in the late 1980s. (file photo)
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right) issued a fatwa ordering the execution of "apostates" in the late 1980s. (file photo)

As rescue teams were still searching for the wreckage of Raisi's helicopter, videos emerged on social media showing fireworks going off at night in what appeared to be celebrations.

Mihan Rusta, whose husband was among those executed in 1988, says the celebrations were the result of decades of anger and pain.

Celebrating a death may "not be humane," she said, but it is to be expected when "you've been under pressure" for years.

"It's a natural and human reaction to feel a sense of relief when circumstances intervene when you couldn't," Rusta told Radio Farda.

Like many other family members of the victims of the mass executions, Rusta bemoaned that Raisi's death meant that he would evade justice for his alleged crimes.

Raisi took "part of the truth" to the grave, she said. "For those who seek justice...you will always carry this thought with you. The knowledge that you'll never know the whole truth," she added.

As president, Raisi oversaw a bloody crackdown on unprecedented antiestablishment protests in 2022 and the tightening of the country's morality laws.

Vatanparast said it would be "good for the world" for people like Raisi to go on trial. But she added, "The sooner they die...the safer people's children."

Written by Kian Sharifi based on interviews by Fereshteh Ghazi of RFE/RL's Radio Farda

As Raisi Funeral Ceremonies Begin, Mother Of Executed Iranians Celebrates

As Raisi Funeral Ceremonies Begin, Mother Of Executed Iranians Celebrates
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As three days of funeral ceremonies began for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and others killed in a helicopter crash, a woman who lost 11 relatives in executions in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating his death. Raisi was accused of being on a "death committee," which ordered mass executions at the time. Later, his period in office was marked by a brutal crackdown on nationwide protests sparked by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, in custody.

Iranian-Danish Director Of The Apprentice Offers To Screen Movie For Trump

Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi (file photo)
Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi (file photo)

Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has called The Apprentice, a film about the former U.S. president in the 1980s, “pure fiction” and vowed legal action following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

But Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi is offering to privately screen the film for Trump.

Following its premiere on May 19 in Cannes, Steven Cheung, Trump's campaign spokesperson, said the Trump team will be filing a lawsuit “to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers."

Abbasi said he "would offer to go and meet [Trump] wherever he wants and talk about the context of the movie, have a screening and have a chat afterwards, if that’s interesting to anyone at the Trump campaign.”

Updated

Iranian President's Casket Arrives In Tehran As New Crash Details Emerge

Mourners try to touch the flag-draped caskets of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and Raisi's chief bodyguard, Mehdi Mousavi, during a funeral ceremony in the city of Tabriz, Iran, on May 21.
Mourners try to touch the flag-draped caskets of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and Raisi's chief bodyguard, Mehdi Mousavi, during a funeral ceremony in the city of Tabriz, Iran, on May 21.

The caskets of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and others killed in a May 19 helicopter crash arrived in a procession with an honor guard in Tehran on May 21 ahead of a planned journey to the holy city of Qom, where additional services were scheduled for later in the day as part of a five-day mourning period declared by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Several funeral ceremonies were taking place in Iran on May 21 to mark the deaths of Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and others in the helicopter crash that occurred in northern Iran near the city of Tabriz, the capital of Iran's northwestern province of East Azerbaijan.

Following their journey to Qom, the caskets are to return late on May 21 to Tehran, where a funeral service is scheduled for May 22 presided over by Khamenei and with a procession set to follow. Ceremonies are also being held in Birjand on May 23, when Raisi will be buried at the Imam Reza Shrine in the holy city of Mashhad, Iranian media reported.

The IRNA state-run news agency posted the first footage purportedly showing the caskets of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian on X, formerly Twitter.

State television later showed large crowds gathering in Qom ahead of services there.

Khamenei also named First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as interim president. Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president.

A presidential election to determine Raisi's successor was announced for June 28. The election, which has to be held within 50 days, is to be organized by a council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president.

Iran's interim president, Mohammad Mokhber (right), leads a cabinet meeting in Tehran on May 20.
Iran's interim president, Mohammad Mokhber (right), leads a cabinet meeting in Tehran on May 20.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister, Iranian state media reported.

After Iranian state television said on May 20 that the helicopter had crashed due to poor weather conditions, search-and-rescue teams found the bodies of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian at the site of the crash in northwest Iran.

Communication was lost while the helicopter was on its way back to Tabriz after Raisi attended the joint inauguration of a dam with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, on their common border.

On May 21, an official on another helicopter disclosed additional details of events on the day of the crash, according to a report by dpa.

Gholam Hossein Esmaili, the presidential chief of staff, told state television that upon the helicopters' departure, "the weather was cloudless, completely clear, and bright."

But he said clouds quickly emerged and that the pilot of the presidential helicopter -- flying in the center of the three-aircraft convoy -- ordered the copters to fly at a higher altitude.

Shortly afterward, the pilot of the helicopter Esmaili was traveling in realized that the Raisi craft was no longer with the others and was thought to have made an emergency landing.

The two other helicopters in the convoy circled for several minutes over the area before landing near a copper mine because of the poor conditions.

The Iranian government said the other two helicopters eventually landed safely in Tabriz.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said that all eight people aboard the Bell 212 helicopter purchased by Iran in the early 2000s were killed. Besides Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian, the governor of East Azerbaijan Province, a senior cleric from Tabriz, a Revolutionary Guards official, and three crew members were killed, according to IRNA.

The bodies from the helicopter that crashed were severely burned but not beyond recognition, according to the head of Iran's Crisis Management Organization, Mohammad Hassan Nami. He said DNA tests were not needed to confirm the identities of those killed in the crash.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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He added that Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem, who served as Khamenei's representative in East Azerbaijan Province, survived the crash initially and remained alive for about an hour before he died.

Nami said that, during that time, Al-e Hashem had made contact with Raisi's chief of staff by phone. He did not reveal any further details.

Meanwhile, Washington said for the first time that Tehran had asked for U.S. help in the helicopter incident but that it was unable to provide assistance, mainly due to logistical reasons.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller did not specify how the request was made or the nature of it. The United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

Foreign governments on May 20 issued expressions of condolence and solidarity. Lebanon announced three days of mourning to honor Raisi. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were both "true, reliable friends of our country."

Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, issued a statement of condolence and thanked Raisi for his "tireless efforts in solidarity" with the Palestinian people.

The United States -- a bitter rival of Iran that had imposed financial sanctions on Raisi when he was head of Iran's judiciary in 2019 -- also offered its condolences.

"The United States expresses its official condolences for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other members of their delegation in a helicopter crash in northwest Iran," the State Department said in a statement.

"As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The White House, nevertheless, had harsh words for Raisi, saying he had "blood on his hands" for supporting extremist groups in the Middle East.

U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "no question, this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands."

U.S. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said Raisi's rule was "barbaric" and marked by "terror, danger, and oppression."

"In these fateful days, we pray for stability in the Middle East, for Iranian leaders who will seek to live at peace with their neighbors and the West, and for the day when the flag of freedom will be raised in Iran," Johnsonwrote on X.

European Council President Charles Michel issued a statement of "sincere condolences," adding "our thoughts go to the families."

Some activists criticized the EU for assisting in the rescue operation of a leader who has been accused of overseeing major human rights abuses.

But EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic defended the move on May 20, saying that, by providing satellite mapping services to Tehran, Brussels was acting "upon request for facilitating a search and rescue operation" and was not "an act of political support to any regime or establishment."

"It is simply an expression of the most basic humanity," he added in a post on X.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and had since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through the enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code on head scarves.

Thousands of people, including protesters, journalists, lawyers, athletes, and artists have been arrested and at least 500 people have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on the protests.

Raisi also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

Iran Mourns -- And Celebrates -- President's Death

Iran Mourns -- And Celebrates -- President's Death
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The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has led to official mourning in the country, but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests after a young woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody in 2022.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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A new presidential election must be held in Iran within 50 days following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on May 19, according to the country's constitution. Chatham House's Sanam Vakil says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iranian Nobel Laureate Ebadi Says Raisi's Death Means He Will Evade Justice

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi (file photo)
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi (file photo)

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has said that the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was regrettable because he will evade justice for his alleged crimes.

Raisi, who died in a May 19 helicopter crash in northwestern Iran, has been accused of serving as a prosecutor on an "execution committee" that sent thousands of political prisoners and regime opponents to their deaths in the late 1980s.

His presidency, which began in 2021, is also infamous for its stricter enforcement of Iran's draconian hijab law and brutal crackdown on mass demonstrations for women's rights.

"If we haven't forgotten, which tragically is not easily forgotten, there was the painful incident of the mass execution of political prisoners by the execution committee," Ebadi said of Raisi in a May 20 interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "The people of Iran had hoped to see him brought to justice, to witness how he would struggle and plead for his own exoneration. He did not deserve such an easy death."

The rights watchdog Amnesty International has said that at least 4,500 people were executed in the mass killing ordered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988 for "waging war against God."

The leftist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, which was accused of treachery for its role in carrying out an invasion deep into Iranian territory after a cease-fire ended the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, says that up to 30,000 people were executed.

Many of the victims were buried in secret.

During a court trial in Stockholm in 2022 in which a former prison guard for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps faced testimony from hundreds of survivors and their relatives, Raisi was named as belonging to the three-member execution committee that determined the fate of prisoners.

Ebadi, 76, was a prominent human rights lawyer for years in Iran before she was forced into exile in 2009. From her home in Britain, she has continued to criticize the Iranian authorities for their crackdown on virtually any form of dissent.

WATCH: A new presidential election must be held within 50 days following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, and one analyst says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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Ebadi said that some in the foreign media expressed surprise that some Iranians were celebrating Raisi's death, including by lighting fireworks and dancing in videos shared on social media.

"Are people truly this happy about the death of one person?" Ebadi said she was asked. "Regrettably, I told them that [hard-liners'] actions had made their deaths a cause for celebration."

WATCH: Raisi's death led to official mourning in Iran -- but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

Ebadi said that now that the 63-year-old Raisi is dead, it is unlikely he will posthumously face prosecution.

"Generally, and legally, once a person passes away, any criminal actions they committed are no longer prosecuted," Ebadi said. "However, they will remain in people's memories and be recorded in history, particularly in the annals of human rights."

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, The Iranian Foreign Minister Close To Revolutionary Guards, Dead At 60

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian distrusted the West and was a vocal supporter of the so-called axis of resistance.
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian distrusted the West and was a vocal supporter of the so-called axis of resistance.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a conservative figure who enjoyed the support of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has died at the age of 60.

Amir-Abdollahian and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi were returning from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan when their helicopter crashed in Iran's mountainous northwest on May 19, killing all on board.

Tehran's top diplomat was suspicious of the West and a vocal supporter of the "axis of resistance," Iran's loose network of militant groups and proxies, against Israel and the United States.

His appointment in 2021 was seen as part of the Raisi administration's disengagement with the West and its focus on the Middle East region. He was said to be fluent in Arabic, while his English appeared to be limited.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) sits next to President Ebrahim Raisi (center) at a conference in Tehran in December 2023.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) sits next to President Ebrahim Raisi (center) at a conference in Tehran in December 2023.

Born in the northern city of Damghan in 1960, Amir-Abdollahian did not enlist to fight in the devastating 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and instead attended university and eventually obtained a PhD in international relations.

He climbed the ladder in the Foreign Ministry quickly and his first posting was in Iran's Embassy in Iraq in the late 1990s.

In an apparent sign of the Islamic republic's faith in Amir-Abdollahian, the young diplomat was named to a three-man delegation to represent Iran in rare talks with the United States over the war in Iraq.

Amir-Abdollahian served in various roles in the ministry, notably as ambassador to Bahrain, deputy minister for Arab and African affairs, and head of the Persian Gulf department.

His involvement in Tehran's relations with Iraq and the activities of the IRGC in Iran's western neighbor allowed him to forge a relationship with Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the IRGC's overseas arm. Soleimani was killed in a U.S. air strike near Baghdad in 2020.

Ahead of his appointment as foreign minister, conservative lawmaker Ali Alizadeh praised Amir-Abdollahian as the "Soleimani of diplomacy."

In 2016, amid rumors that he had fallen out with then-Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, he turned down an offer to become Iran's envoy in Oman and left the ministry.

But Amir-Abdollahian quickly landed on his feet and was appointed as foreign affairs adviser to then-parliament speaker Ali Larijani, where he remained until he was named foreign minister.

Amir-Abdollahian is survived by his wife and their two children.

Ebrahim Raisi, The Hard-Line Iranian President Tipped As Next Supreme Leader, Dead At 63

On May 19, a helicopter carrying Raisi crashed in Iran's mountainous northwest on its way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan. His fate was not immediately clear.
On May 19, a helicopter carrying Raisi crashed in Iran's mountainous northwest on its way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan. His fate was not immediately clear.

Ebrahim Raisi, the ultraconservative Iranian president who was widely tipped to become the country's next supreme leader, has died at the age of 63.

A helicopter carrying Raisi and his foreign minister crashed in Iran's mountainous northwest on May 19 on its way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan, killing all on board.

Raisi, a longtime protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was a former judicial chief who also allegedly played a role in one of the darkest chapters of the Islamic republic.

The hard-line cleric will be remembered for overseeing the brutal suppression of the unprecedented, monthslong antiestablishment protests that erupted in 2022 and the tightening of the country's morality laws.

Hundreds were killed and thousands arrested as government forces crushed the demonstrations, one of the biggest challenges to the country's clerical rulers in decades.

Raisi defended the bloody crackdown and accused foreign powers and opposition groups of instigating the unrest.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, says Raisi's presidency has been marked by growing social and political ruptures and deteriorating relations with the West.

"His tenure reflects the broader trend of increasingly insulated policymaking at the top of the Iranian system as it consolidates ultraconservative control," he said.

President Ebrahim Raisi (center) and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) attend a conference in Tehran in December 2023.
President Ebrahim Raisi (center) and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) attend a conference in Tehran in December 2023.

'Butcher Of Tehran'

Raisi attended seminary schools in the holy Shi'ite cities of Qom and Mashhad, where he was born in 1960. He later studied theology and Islamic jurisprudence under the guidance of Khamenei and other powerful clerics.

Raisi was referred to by critics of the Islamic republic as the "Butcher of Tehran" for his alleged role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 when he was Tehran's deputy prosecutor.

In 1989, the year Khamenei became supreme leader, Raisi was named the Iranian capital's top prosecutor. He remained in the role until 1994, when he was tasked with heading the State Inspectorate Organization, a judicial body, a post he held for 10 years.

Powerful judiciary chief Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi appointed Raisi as his deputy in 2004. After a decade in the role, Raisi was named as Iran's chief prosecutor in 2014. Two years later, Khamenei appointed Raisi as custodian of a shrine in Mashhad and one of Iran's wealthiest foundations.

In the 2017 presidential election, Raisi launched an unsuccessful bid against incumbent moderate President Hassan Rohani. He secured 38 percent of the vote.

Two years later, Khamenei appointed Raisi as Iran's judiciary chief. That same year, the United States imposed sanctions on Raisi and eight others deemed to be in Khamenei's inner circle.

'Impunity Reigns Supreme'

Raisi succeeded in his second bid for the presidency in 2021 in an election that was widely seen as a one-horse race.

Scores of moderate and pro-reformist candidates were barred from running. The vote witnessed the lowest-ever turnout for a presidential election since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Ebrahim Raisi (right) was widely believed to be the main contender to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left).
Ebrahim Raisi (right) was widely believed to be the main contender to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left).

"That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran," Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said after Raisi's election victory.

Raisi's election consolidated the authority of the country's hard-liners, which dominate all three branches of power in Iran.

Under Raisi's administration, Iran has deepened relations with China and Russia and ramped up its confrontation with the West and archfoe Israel.

In elections held in March, Raisi defended his seat on the Assembly of Experts, a body that picks the country's supreme leader.

The death of Raisi, long tipped to be the next supreme leader, is likely to complicate Khamenei's succession plan. Mojtaba Khamenei, the influential son of the supreme leader, is now considered among the front-runners.

Raisi is survived by his wife, Jamileh Alamolhoda, and their two daughters.

World Reacts To Death Of Iranian President Raisi

Iranians and world leaders are reacting to the deaths of Iran's president, Ebrahim Raisi, and his foreign minister after state media reported they both died in a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran. 

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Will Raisi's Death Bring Major Changes To Iran's Policies? The Short Answer Is 'No.'

Ebrahim Raisi's death will have limited impact on policy, but could set off a power struggle among hard-liners in Iran.
Ebrahim Raisi's death will have limited impact on policy, but could set off a power struggle among hard-liners in Iran.

The helicopter crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has sent shock waves around the Islamic republic and the region.

But Raisi's death is not expected to bring major changes to Tehran's domestic and foreign policies, analysts say.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all major state affairs, and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are the key centers of power in Iran, where the president's authority is limited.

"The death of Raisi, in itself, will not cause a significant shift in Iran's policies," said Hamidreza Azizi, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "After all, the president is the second in command in the power hierarchy of the Islamic republic, and strategic directions are set by the supreme leader."

As president, Raisi oversaw a brutal crackdown on antiestablishment protests in 2022 and the tightening of the country's morality laws.

The real significance of the ultraconservative Raisi's death, experts say, is that it could set off a power struggle among the country's hard-liners.

The demise of Raisi, who was widely tipped to become the next supreme leader, could also complicate Khamenei's succession plans.

Raisi, a former judiciary chief, was a longtime protege of Khamenei, who was believed to be grooming him as his successor.

Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based Chatham House, said Raisi "fit the bill" to take over from Khamenei and even modelled his life on the 85-year-old supreme leader.

"[Raisi] was a loyal functionary willing to do the bidding of the supreme leader through multiple institutions," she said. "There are no obvious candidates that can tick a lot of boxes."

Raisi's death has left a vacancy to fill. Elections must be held within 50 days, according to Iranian law, leaving the clerical establishment scrambling to find a suitable replacement.

The early front-runners are speaker of parliament Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.

Azizi said the next president could have "significant influence over the overall trajectory" of Khamenei's succession.

"As a result, this is going to lead to heightened intra-conservative competition to [become president]," he added.

Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran Project at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said the upcoming election offers an opportunity for the clerical establishment to "pursue a different course" by allowing a relatively competitive vote.

In 2021, Raisi won the presidential election by a landslide, in a vote that was widely seen as rigged. His victory consolidated the power of hard-liners, who assumed control of all three branches of government.

"But I suspect that the regime is dedicating all its efforts to preparing for a succession after Khamenei, striving to create homogeneous conditions at the top of the power pyramid, and not allowing any rivals into this circle," Vaez told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

International Relations

Raisi’s death is unlikely to have any impact on the deepening ties between Iran and Russia, a relationship that has increasingly worried the West, analysts say.

Iran has supplied thousands of drones to Russia following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The Iranian unmanned aircraft, known as the Shahed, has played a key role in the 27-month war, allowing Russia to devastate Ukrainian cities at a distance, including destroying critical infrastructure.

"It is unlikely that anything will change in relations between Russia and Iran. At least if a conservative remains president,” Ilia Kusa, an analyst at the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Institute of the Future, said on Facebook.

"The situational partnership between Russia and Iran is tied not so much to one person as to the international situation, poor relations with the West, and close ties at different levels," he said.

As for U.S.-Iranian relations, which have been tense for decades, the Biden administration does not expect any transformation with Raisi's death.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on May 20 that when it comes to Iranian policy, it is Khamenei who “calls the shots,” not the president.

“So we don't anticipate any change in Iranian behavior. And therefore the Iranians should not expect any change in American behavior when it comes to holding them accountable,” Kirby said.

Iranian President Raisi's Death Sets Off Scramble To Find His Replacement

President Ebrahim Raisi's seat in the Iranian cabinet sits empty following his death in a helicopter crash on May 19.
President Ebrahim Raisi's seat in the Iranian cabinet sits empty following his death in a helicopter crash on May 19.

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi sets in motion a scramble to replace him in short order, with long-term implications for the clerical establishment.

Mohammad Mokhber, who served as first vice president under Raisi, has already taken over the presidential duties in an acting capacity.

His time in office will likely be brief, with Iranian law stipulating that a new presidential election be held within 50 days.

Mokhber, along with speaker of parliament Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, must now arrange a new vote, expected to take place early July.

Raisi died on impact along with nine others, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in northwestern Iran on May 19.

WATCH: A new presidential election must be held within 50 days following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, and one analyst says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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Raisi, a former judiciary head who was elected by a landslide in a controversial election in 2021, was seen as a protege and possible successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei, addressing the nation on May 19 before Raisi's death was confirmed, said that "the Iranian people should not worry, there will be no disruption in the country's work."

But the death of the ultraconservative Raisi presents challenges to the Islamic republic's hard-liners, who solidified their hold on power following this spring's parliamentary elections.

Ali Afshari, a U.S.-based former student leader who was jailed in Iran for his activism, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that "it may not be easy to find a leader like Raisi, who was completely obedient to Khamenei and the establishment.”

The normally lengthy process for determining suitable presidential candidates, all subject to vetting and approval by the powerful Guardians Council, will now be squeezed into a window of less than two months.

In winning the presidency in 2021, Raisi benefitted from the mass disqualification of reformist and moderate candidates. Seen as a hand-picked candidate who would not pose a threat to Khamenei, he took more than 72 percent of the vote in a presidential election that garnered the lowest turnout ever since the Islamic republic was founded in 1979.

There is some precedent for a quick presidential transition in Iran.

The Islamic republic's second president, Mohammad-Ali Rajai, served less than two weeks before his assassination in 1981. He was replaced just over a month later by Khamenei, who took more than 95 percent of the vote in an election in which he was backed by all three other candidates.

Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House in London, said in a video interview that she expects an expedited process this time around.

"The leadership wants to show a commitment to the constitution, but also business as usual," Vakil said. "And facilitating a quick and accountable election will be important, at least for external constituencies and to show stability."

Vakil lists past presidential candidates who have already undergone vetting by the Guardians Council among Raisi's possible successors, including parliament speaker Qalibaf.

Vakil also said Khamenei could take the opportunity to "rehabilitate marginalized" former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who was barred from running against Raisi in 2021, but "has been a loyal supporter of the system."

Some observers have also suggested that this might be a chance to repair ties with members of former moderate President Hassan Rohani's camp, Vakil says, although she does not see Rohani himself as a potential candidate.

In 2021, Raisi defeated Mohsen Rezaee, a senior officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who is a member of the influential Expediency Council, as well as Abdolnaser Hemmati, a banker who was the only moderate in the race.

"Who the system picks, or permits, to run will really indicate the priorities or direction of this political establishment," Vakil said. "If they do allow a more contested election, then this could be about building bridges and trying to increase popular legitimacy."

On the other hand, if a hard-liner is selected from within the ranks of the clerical establishment, it would show that "the priorities are unity, conservative consolidation, and making sure that transition...continues to be prioritized."

The election of a president this year will also bring changes to election timelines, as the next elected president will serve a full four-year term. This will mean that future presidential elections will fall the same year as parliamentary elections.

Longer-term, Raisi's death leaves a major vacancy in the effort to groom the Islamic republic's next supreme leader, who makes all final decisions regarding Iranian foreign and domestic policies.

Iran's clerical leadership, Afshari said, now finds itself "in an uncomfortable situation" in finding a suitable successor to the 85-year-old Khamenei, who has reportedly suffered from health problems in recent years.

Reza Alijani, an Iranian journalist and analyst based in France, said that former competitors of Raisi would likely benefit. He named Khamenei's son, the prominent cleric Mojtaba Khamenei, as a strong contender to replace his father.

"Mojtaba Khamenei's chances are likely much higher now," Alijani told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

With contributions by Kian Sharifi

Bodies Recovered As Iranian TV Announces President's Death

Bodies Recovered As Iranian TV Announces President's Death
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Iranian state media showed rescue workers and soldiers carrying away the bodies of the casualties after a helicopter with senior officials on board crashed in the country's northwest. State television announced on May 20 that President Ebrahim Raisi had died in the crash.

Updated

Iran Announces June 28 For New Election Following Raisi's Death

Even as Iran declared a period of mourning following the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and others in a helicopter crash, the country moved forward and set June 28 as the date for an election to determine Raisi’s successor.

Iranian authorities also said the funeral procession for Raisi will be held in Tehran on May 22.

The announcements came as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared five days of mourning after the bodies of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were found at the site of a helicopter crash in northwest Iran.

Meanwhile, Washington said for the first time that Tehran had asked for U.S. help in the helicopter incident but that it was unable to provide assistance, mainly due to logistical reasons.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller did not specify how the request was made or the nature of it. The United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

Iranian state television on May 20 said the helicopter had crashed due to poor weather conditions. It was unclear how many people were on board the helicopter when it went down.

Khamenei also named First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as interim president. Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president.

WATCH: A new presidential election must be held within 50 days and one analyst says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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A council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister, Iranian state media reported.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and other unspecified officials and bodyguards were aboard the ill-fated aircraft.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber was named as interim president.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber was named as interim president.

Foreign governments on May 20 issued expressions of condolence and solidarity. Lebanon announced three days of mourning to honor Raisi. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were both "true, reliable friends of our country."

Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, issued a statement of condolence and thanked Raisi for his “tireless efforts in solidarity” with the Palestinian people.

The United States, a bitter rival of Iran – and which had imposed financial sanctions on Raisi when he was head of Iran's judiciary in 2019 – also offered its condolences.

“The United States expresses its official condolences for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other members of their delegation in a helicopter crash in northwest Iran,” the State Department said in a statement.

“As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The White House, meanwhile, had harsh words for Raisi, saying he had "blood on his hands" for supporting extremist groups in the Middle East.

U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "no question, this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands."

European Council President Charles Michel issued a statement of “sincere condolences,” adding “our thoughts go to the families.”

Search-and-rescue teams, aided by several foreign governments, had been frantically searching for the helicopter after it went down in bad weather conditions in a mountainous area of the country late on May 19.

WATCH: Raisi's death led to official mourning in Iran, but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

Some activists criticized the EU for assisting in the rescue operation of a leader who has been accused of overseeing major human rights abuses.

But EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic defended the move on May 20, saying that by providing satellite mapping services to Tehran, Brussels was acting "upon request for facilitating a search and rescue operation" and was not "an act of political support to any regime or establishment."

"It is simply an expression of the most basic humanity," he added in a post on X.

Raisi's helicopter was on its way to the city of Tabriz when it went down near the city of Jolfa in what state television said was a "hard landing," but several news reports quoted government sources as saying the helicopter crashed as it crossed a mountainous and forested area.

The bodies from the helicopter that crashed were severely burned, but not beyond recognition, according to the head of Iran's Crisis Management Organization, Mohammad Hassan Nami. He said DNA tests were not needed to confirm the identities of those killed in the crash.

He added that Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, who served as Khamenei's representative in East Azerbaijan Province, survived the crash initially and remained alive for about an hour before he died.

Nami said that, during that time, Ale-Hashem had made contact with Raisi's chief of staff by phone. He did not reveal any further details.

The Iranian government said the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy, and the other two reportedly landed safely in Tabriz.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian late last year.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian late last year.

The ultraconservative Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian had been in Azerbaijan earlier on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who said on X that Azerbaijan was "profoundly troubled" by the news that Raisi's helicopter had gone down.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and has since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the code on head scarves.

He has also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

Iranian President, Foreign Minister Killed In Helicopter Crash

Rescuers work to recover bodies at the site where a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi crashed in a fog-shrouded mountainous area in the country's northwest on May 20. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also among those killed, along with seven others. 

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