IRAN: Ayatollah calls government a 'military regime,' calls for clerical revolt [Updated]
An influential and high-ranking Iranian cleric has issued a scathing denunciation of the Islamic Republic's current leadership, calling on senior Shiite Muslim clergy in the Iranian holy cities of Qom and Mashhad as well as the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf and beyond to speak out against the regime.
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri is one of the founders of the Islamic Republic. He was a confidant to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini before he fell out of favor in the late 1980s.
In a statement issued today, he said that Iran had become a "military regime" not the Islamic government envisioned at time of the 1979 revolution.
He said it was his fellow clergymen's "religious duty" to speak out against the the government's abuses.
"We didn't want a mere change in title and slogans while the same oppressions and violations of rights continue under the cover of Islamic government," he said in the statement posted to his website.
Iran continues to reel from the aftermath of disputed June 12 election and a subsequent violent crackdown against those who opposed the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Montazeri's statement was one of the harshest statements yet by a senior cleric yet in the post-election war of words between the government and its opponents.
Montazeri doesn't have direct political power, but he's highly regarded among influential and revered Shiite clergy in Lebanon, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf.
His uncompromising denunciation could make it difficult for Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to garner clerical support for the ongoing crackdown and the battered government of Ahmadinejad.
[Updated, Sept. 15, 12:50 a.m., Hours after the Monday afternoon publication of Montazeri's blistering letter, authorities arrested three of his grandchildren in the holy city of Qom, his son, Ahmad, told local and international media.
No charges have been specified against the three young men, aged 18 to 22.]
Montazeri blamed authorities for triggering the crisis and then pinning on others the mess they themselves created amid allegations of election fraud.
He dismissed the ongoing trials of dissidents as "illegitimate and illegal show trials [that] have given cause to the entire world to mock Islamic justice."
"The recent post-election tragedies have set alarm bells ringing for the clergy," he wrote. "The regime has savagely suppressed million-strong protesters who were legally objecting to the election outcome. A large number were arrested, and an unknown number were martyred in notorious jails."
Montazeri called on the senior clergy to stand with the Iranian people just as it has in the face of all "oppressive regimes." He urged them to speak out.
"The grand ayatollahs are well aware of their influence on the regime, and they know quite well the regime needs their approval for its legitimacy," he wrote. "They also know the regime is exploiting their silence ... Their silence may give the wrong impression to people that the grand ayatollahs approve of whatever is underway."
-- Borzou Daragahi in BeirutPhoto: A 2003 picture shows Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, meeting with supporters and journalists after being freed from five years of house arrest in the holy city of Qom. Credit: Atta Kenare / AFP/Getty Images