Case Study: Multi-Disciplinary Project

Twelve Angry Men – The Guardian Council, Obstacle to Democracy

TitleTwelve Angry Men – The Guardian Council, Obstacle to Democracy
ClientArseh Sevom
Duration10 months
Team Members21
Stakeholders4 organizations
Project TypeMulti-disciplinary

This case study looks at a project that Kamran led for Arseh Sevom. This project including engaging with multiple stakeholders, researchers, writers, and designers to create content in various formats and for different platforms. One objective of the project was to inform human rights advocacy and map power in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It involved the following:

  • Mentoring researchers, writers, and designers through meetings and one-on-one consultations
  • Original research and analysis
  • Rigorous fact-checking
  • Finding patterns in complex information
  • Creating charts and graphics to help understand the data
  • Writing and editing
  • Design
  • Infographics (37)
  • Podcast (10 episodes)
  • Videos (5)
  • Profiles (40)
  • Timeline of legal changes, specifically concentrating on women
  • Mapping lesser- and unknown organizations involved in the Guardian Council
  • Knowledge quiz for website visitors


Arseh Sevom (Third Sphere), a non-governmental organization established in 2010 in Amsterdam, dedicated to promoting democracy, human rights, and civil society. The organization aims to create tools, resources, and opportunities for learning and collaboration that strengthen civil society both within Iran and among related language and cultural communities.

Arseh Sevom envisions a robust and pluralistic civil society in Iran and among related communities, that is capable, participatory, and effective in achieving its objectives. They advocate for the advancement of rights for people of all beliefs, genders, ethnicities, and non-violent political affiliations in Iran.

Project: Investigate and report on power networks of Iran’s Guardian Council

The 12 Angry Men of the Guardian Council

Image from Arseh Sevom

Setting the scene: The Guardian Council has 12 members serving six-year terms. Six of the twelve are appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader. The other six are selected by members of parliament from a pool of candidates determined by the head of the judiciary. Since the head of the judiciary is appointed by the Supreme Leader, this further enhances his control over the political process in Iran.

Over the past 40 years, the Guardian Council has been leveraged by the Supreme Leader to wield political power, keep opposition at bay, and to shape future leadership.

The Guardian Council also determines who can and cannot run for national office. In 2020, more candidates were disqualified than in the previous 40 years. This included several sitting members of parliament.

Additionally, the Guardian Council oversees the legislative process and has veto power.

The research looked into the council’s extra-legal expansion of its power over the 2000s, through a series of actions taken to move beyond its constitutionally dictated mandate.

The execution of the research involved:

  • Organizing and overseeing a remote research team located internationally.
  • De-tangling purposely complex and hard-to-find information.
  • Managing a team of writers and designers and creating coherent graphics to accompany the information.
  • Creating a series of reports, multi-media explainers, and infographics.
  • Presentations at human rights related events.


Information was collected from (then) public sources. Some of those sources were purposely difficult to access. These sources were augmented with interviews and a literature review. All published information was fact-checked and not one published item has ever been disputed.

Researchers were mentored throughout the project in fact-checking, information design, and writing.


This project revealed ground-breaking information that was unknown to policy makers, human rights activists, academics, and journalists. It mapped networks of power and showed how political power in the Islamic Republic of Iran had been reshaped since the early 2000s. The results of the research showed that the Guardian Council is the biggest obstacle to democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran. What began as a 12-member council, has now expanded into a nation-wide franchise that includes surveillance, shadow-organizations, and local oversight boards.

The chart below shows some of the significant findings of the research around the elections procedures. It demonstrates the incorporation of the Revolutionary Guards, the militia, and Intelligence. Importantly, our research showed that surveillance of potential candidates and activists is part of the process now. Surveillance may begin when people are teenagers. If you are interested in learning more, you can read more in English on the website.

The results of this project have used for advocacy campaigns at various levels by a wide variety of organizations.