Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei. Kayhan London./

DUBAI, July 1 (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader on Thursday appointed hardline cleric Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei as the new head of the judiciary, state media reported, a body that enforces Islamic laws and is accused by rights groups of cracking down harshly on dissent.

Ejei, a long-term judicial official and former intelligence minister, replaces Ebrahim Raisi, who is due to become president in early August after winning a June 18 election.

Ejei’s appointment by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes as Iran faces renewed criticism by Western human rights groups and international bodies over the election of Raisi, who is accused by critics of a series of abuses during his judicial career. He denies wrongdoing.

In a statement, Khamenei urged Mohseni Ejei to “promote justice, restore public rights, ensure legitimate freedoms, and oversee the proper implementation of laws, prevent crime, and resolutely fight corruption”, state news agency IRNA reported.

The U.N. investigator on human rights in Iran has called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 and the role played by Raisi as Tehran deputy prosecutor.

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“As I have described in my reports, there is a widespread and systemic impunity in the country for gross violations of human rights, both historically in the past as well as in the present,” U.N.’s Javaid Rehman told Reuters this week.

“There are very few if any real avenues for accountability in line with international standards within domestic channels,” Rehman said.

Iran has repeatedly dismissed the criticism of its human rights record as baseless and due to a lack of understanding of its Islamic laws. It says its legal system is independent and not influenced by political interests.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said last month that Raisi’s election was a blow for human rights and called for him to be investigated over his role in the 1988 executions.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Editing by William Maclean)

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