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Dissident Clerics Abused In Iran

In theocratic Iran, the campaign by the Iranian government to silence dissident voices extends even to clerics. The most famous case involves Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. He was once the designated successor to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei. Ayatollah Montazeri was put under house arrest for five years for objecting to the deplorable human rights conditions in Iran. He was released in 2003 amid reports of deteriorating health.

In October, security forces arrested Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi, a Shiite cleric who advocates the separation of religion from politics. The arrest came after violent clashes between security forces and hundreds of the ayatollah's supporters who had surrounded his house in an attempt to prevent his arrest. Many of his supporters were also taken into custody.

Before his arrest, Ayatollah Boroujerdi said he believed "people were tired of political religion and they want to return to traditional religion." He said he had written letters to Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana complaining of harassment by the Iranian authorities.

Hojjatoleslam Ezimi Qedimi is another Shiite cleric singled out for repression by Iranian authorities. A human rights activist for Iran's Azeri minority, he was tried in January by the Special Court for the Clergy in Tabriz and was convicted of "propagandizing in favor of groups and organizations against the system." Hojjatoleslam Qedimi was sentenced to a year in prison, and five years exile from all Azerbaijani provinces in Iran. He was also banned from wearing the clothes of a religious scholar for ten years for supposedly "bringing the clergy into disrepute."

Hojjatoleslam Qedimi was released from prison in August, on the condition that he cease speaking out about the human rights of Azeri Iranians. That is a condition, he said in an interview with V-O-A's Azerbaijani service, he cannot reconcile with his religion. "Someone who is really religious and is educated properly about Islam," he said, "should not accept every policy of the government and should be outspoken, even though he has to be ready for arrest, and restriction of religious activity, and exile – as in my case."

President George W. Bush calls Iran a "nation. . .held hostage by a small, clerical elite." It is clear from the clerical regime's treatment of Ayatollah Montazeri, Ayatollah Boroujerdi and Hosjjatoleslam Qedimi that the hostages include members of Iran's clergy as well.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.