Iran's newly appointed head of the judiciary, a controversial hard-line cleric accused of gross human rights violations, has been elected as deputy chief of the body that names and oversees the work of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, local media report.
The semiofficial IRNA news agency said that the clerical Assembly of Experts elected Ebrahim Raisi to the post on March 12, less than a week after Khamenei appointed him as the new chief of the judiciary, an influential advisory body.
Another hard-line cleric, 92-year-old Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, heads the 88-seat Assembly of Experts, which has two deputy chiefs.
Raisi, 58, is a senior cleric and longtime prosecutor who is also custodian and chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi, the organization that runs Iran's holiest Shi'ite religious sites.
Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department blasted his appointment to head the judiciary, saying that he was involved in the "mass executions" of political prisoners in the 1980s.
Observers said that Raisi's rise could strengthen the hard-line camp and weaken the moderates, led by President Hassan Rohani.
Raisi lost the presidential election in 2017 to Rohani, who won a second term.
The hard-line cleric has been mentioned among the possible successors to the 79-year-old Khamenei, who underwent prostate surgery in 2014 amid long-standing rumors that he has prostate cancer.
His appointment at the helm of the judiciary and his election as the Assembly of Experts' deputy chief come at a challenging time for Iran, which is dealing with the reimposition by the United States of tough economic sanctions following President Donald Trump's decision in May 2018 to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran's hard-liners have been highly critical of the landmark agreement aimed at curbing the country's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.