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Iran's supreme leader lashes out at his own judiciary for corruption

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

In Iran, the country's supreme leader took an unusual step this week, publicly lashing out at the country's judiciary. He said people have lost faith in the institution due to corruption, both real and perceived. That's been a frequent complaint in Iran. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul, the statements come as a crackdown continues against people who protested the death of a young woman in police custody last year.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met Tuesday with judiciary officials, and his message was blunt. Malpractice and corruption were leading to instability in their institution, which he described as, quote, "one of the main pillars in the establishment of the Islamic Republic." He said most Iranian judges were honorable, but not all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUPREME LEADER ALI KHAMENEI: (Through interpreter) There's a small minority who abuse their position and tarnish the image of the judiciary in the eyes of the people.

KENYON: Khamenei made no mention of the fact that Iranian courts are not independent but, rather, firmly under the control of the judiciary, whose leadership is appointed by the supreme leader himself. Critics have long argued that Iran is rife with corruption, and it's a frequent complaint among Iranians. They also say Iranian authorities are more likely to punish whistleblowers or journalists who expose corruption rather than the officials involved in the corrupt act. In his remarks, Khamenei emphasized that instability in an institution as important as the judiciary could lead to disruptions in the entire regime, and he warned against downplaying the extent of corruption or its possible effects.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KHAMENEI: (Through interpreter) Corruption is contagious. If, God forbid, corruption infects some parts, it will spread, and it will get worse day by day. If it isn't treated, corruption will increase.

KENYON: He said similar problems exist in other parts of the government. His scathing assessment comes as the government continues to jail Iranians who took part in the nationwide protests that were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, Mahsa Jina Amini. She was detained by Iran's morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab, the mandatory head covering, improperly.

The ensuing protests spread the length and breadth of the country. The government's brutal response left more than 500 people dead and tens of thousands detained. It's been seen as the biggest uprising against Iran's cleric-led regime since the founding of the Islamic Republic. Officials have tried to frame the protests as a provocation sponsored by foreign agents of Iran's adversaries in the West. But their arguments have failed to win backing, either inside the country or internationally. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.