New York Times: One of Iran’s most senior clerics issued an unusual decree on Saturday calling the country’s rulers “usurpers and transgressors” for their treatment of opposition protesters in recent weeks, in the strongest condemnation by a religious figure since the contested presidential election a month ago.
The New York Times
By ROBERT F. WORTH
Published: July 11, 2009
BEIRUT, Lebanon — One of Iran’s most senior clerics issued an unusual decree on Saturday calling the country’s rulers “usurpers and transgressors” for their treatment of opposition protesters in recent weeks, in the strongest condemnation by a religious figure since the contested presidential election a month ago.
The decree by Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a dissident who has often criticized Iran’s ruling clerics, did not mention by name Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but was clearly aimed at the clerical leadership.
Posted on the Web site of Mohsen Kadivar, a dissident cleric and former student of Ayatollah Montazeri, the ruling said the recent arrests and shootings of protesters were proof that Iran’s leaders are unqualified to rule the community of Muslims.
“In my estimate this is the strongest criticism ever of the supreme leader,” said Rasool Nafisi, a United States-based academic and Iran expert. “Although it doesn’t mention Ayatollah Khamenei by name, it is clear he is referring to him.”
It is unlikely that the decree, or fatwa, will have any immediate effect in Iran, where opposition figures have already made their positions clear. Some prominent clerics, including Ayatollah Montazeri, have joined political figures in criticizing the government crackdown on street protests in recent weeks, and have said that they believed the election was rigged.
But mostly they have done so in cautious terms. None have made sweeping attacks on the government’s credentials like the one issued Saturday.
“It will have a much stronger effect if other senior clerics, who have also felt the danger, join Montazeri and issue these kinds of statements,” said one political analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “But it will not become mainstream as long as only an individual cleric uses such strong terms.”
Although Ayatollah Montazeri has long been known as a critic of the government, his opinions have weight because of his seniority in Iran’s religious establishment, and because he was a key proponent of wilayat faqih, or rule by clerics — the theoretical underpinning of Iran’s theocracy.
Ayatollah Montazeri, 87, was a leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and was once designated the successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But he fell out with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 over the execution of a large group of prisoners and other policies he deemed unjust.
The ruling came as news agencies reported that Iran’s foreign minister announced that the government was preparing a new package of “political, security and international” issues to put to the West. The minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said at a news conference that “the package can be a good basis for talks with the West,” Reuters reported.
Mr. Mottaki’s statement was Iran’s first response to comments on Wednesday by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France at the Group of 8 summit meeting in Italy, where he said the major powers would give Iran until September to accept negotiations over its nuclear program or face tougher sanctions. President Obama echoed that warning on Friday.
Nazila Fathi contributed reporting from Toronto.