14:25 GMT16 April 2021
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    Ali Khamenei, 81, has been Supreme Leader of Iran since 1989, when he succeeded the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Under Iran’s Islamic republican system, the supreme leader ranks above the president and has the power to appoint senior military, government and judiciary figures, and serves as commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces.

    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s health is deteriorating and he has transferred power over to his 51-year-old son Mojtaba Khamenei, a theological scholar and Iran-Iraq War veteran, Newsweek has reported, citing self-described ‘Iranian journalist Mohamad Ahwaze’ on Twitter.

    “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was scheduled to meet on Friday with the Iranian Leader Khamenei, this meeting between [Khamenei] and President Rouhani was canceled due to the deterioration of Khamenei’s health condition,” Ahwaze, a self-proclaimed journalist ‘writing about inside Iran and its environs’, was quoted as saying in an Arabic language tweet.

    Newsweek said it could not independently confirm or verify Ahwaze’s claims, and mistakenly spelled his first name ‘Momahad’ instead of ‘Mohamad’.

    The journalist himself cited unnamed “sources” in Iran who he said have been talking about Khamenei’s health condition.

    “Iranian sources confirm that the duties and powers of the office of Supreme Leader Khamenei have been transferred to his son Mojtaba Khamenei, who oversees several security and intelligence departments in Iran,” he tweeted in a follow-up tweet.

    Ahwaze also noted that the cause of Khamenei’s alleged poor health was not clear, but possibly related to prostate cancer.

    In addition to Newsweek, the journalist’s claims were picked up by the Jerusalem Post, as well as at least one UK tabloid (who similarly spelled Ahwaze’s name wrong).

    This isn’t the first time that Ahwaze’s reporting has been picked up by major Western outlets. Last week, Ahwaze distributed images of four men he said were suspects for the assassination of senior Iranian nuclear and missile scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, with his reporting picked up by Israeli media, including The Times of Israel. The newspaper later indicated that the journalist appeared to be the source of unverified claims about a 62-man hit squad claimed to have been involved in the killing.

    'Garbage' Fake News

    Iran watchers online dismissed the Twitter journalist’s claims, and blasted US and Middle Eastern media for repeating his reporting, which they called “nonsense” and “fake news”.

    “Garbage. This is why Western media has no credibility. It’s like their wishful thinking that Iran will give up its missile defence capability and its support for allies in the fight against terrorism and apartheid. Newsweek is just one example of a discredited establishment media,” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a professor of English literature at the University of Tehran, wrote.

    Others expressed similar concerns over the unverified reporting, recalling similar false narratives regarding the ‘death’ of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, or suggesting Newsweek and others did not even have “the slightest idea” how the Iranian system of power works.

    Under Iran’s constitution, the supreme leader is formally elected and watched over by the Assembly of Experts, a deliberative body whose members are vetted by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of jurists and experts in Islamic law charged with interpreting the constitution, supervising elections, and approving candidates for president and the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Theoretically, Khamenei's successor would be chosen by the Assembly of Experts, and not by the supreme leader himself.

    The Middle East was plunged into a new round of instability last week in the wake of Fakhrizadeh’s murder, which senior Iranian officials including President Hassan Rouhani and Mohamad Javad Zarif said was perpetrated by Israel. Tel Aviv has made no official comment on the assassination, although an anonymous Israeli official said to have been involved in tracking the scientist’s movements told the New York Times that Israel should be “thanked” for eliminating him.

    Khamenei’s last English-language tweets were published on November 28, and were related to Fakhrizadeh’s killing. The supreme leader asked Iran’s security services to “investigate this crime and firmly prosecute its perpetrators and its commanders”. Unlike Rouhani and Zarif, he did not directly mention Israel in his remarks.

    Related:

    Joe Biden Says 'Hard to Tell' If Murder of Nuclear Scientist Will Affect Talks Between US and Iran
    Iran Open to Talks With Biden After Assassination of Top Nuclear Scientist
    Iran's Top Nuclear Scientist Fakhrizadeh Was Warned Not to Travel on Day of Assassination, Sons Say
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