Monday, April 14, 2008


Cleric says Iran elections neither free nor fair

By Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's most senior dissident cleric has charged that recent parliamentary elections were not free or fair because thousands of reformists were barred from running.
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri accused the country's ruling Islamic establishment of imposing dictatorship in the name of Islam, according to a statement provided to The Associated Press by his office Monday.

Hard-line allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won most of parliament's 290 seats in last month's elections after most reformist candidates were thrown out by Iran's clerical leadership. Reformists won enough to expand their small bloc. A second round of voting for the remaining 81 seats is due April 25.

Montazeri said that "committed and serving individuals are barred" from running in elections "in the name of Islam" and that because of the disqualifications, the election was "neither free nor fair."

Montazeri was once tapped to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran's supreme leader, but was instead stripped of his designation as successor in late 1980s because of his criticisms of the excesses of the revolution, and differences with Khomeini.

Montazeri has since called for curtailing the unlimited powers of the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters and is considered by hard-liners to be answerable only to God.

In November 1997, Montazeri was put under house arrest in his home in Qom, 80 miles south of the capital, Tehran, after saying Khamenei wasn't qualified to rule.

Montazeri, who also condemned the waves of executions that followed the revolution, spent five years under house arrest for the Khamenei criticism, and was freed in 2003.

He said in his new statement that the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled Iran's monarchy in the name of freedom that never materialized.

"The people, assuming the promises would be met, brought about the revolution and paid a heavy price but those promises were not met," said Montazeri, 86. "We promised to promote freedom, stop despotism and give value to people's views. It didn't happen."

Montazeri is one of just a few grand ayatollahs — the most senior theologians of the Shiite Muslim faith.

But after he was placed under house arrest, state-run media stopped referring to Montazeri by his religious title, describing him instead as a "simple-minded" cleric. Any talk about Montazeri was strongly discouraged, references to him in schoolbooks were removed and streets named after him were renamed.

But the ailing cleric is still respected by many Iranians, who observe his religious rulings or support his calls for democratic changes within the ruling establishment.

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