AYATOLLAH MONTAZERI CALLS FOR MORE FREEDOM FOR IRANIANS
Speaking with the British news agency Reuter's correspondent at his home on Wednesday, Mr. Montazeri, 81, said "If officials really want to solve the crisis and satisfy the people, they should put aside their strictness. People should be free to express their ideas", he said in a rare interview with a foreign journalist.
Ayatollah Montazeri also criticised the powerless President Mohammad Khatami for having failed to capitalize on the huge mandate he had won for reform.
Khatami, despite the large
mandate he won in 1997 and 2001 elections, has been unable to overcome
resistance to change from powerful unelected conservatives who control the
judiciary, armed forces and veto-wielding constitutional watchdogs.
"Khatami made a lot of
promises to the people, he had the backing of 22 million voters and people were
hopeful, but he was not able to fulfil his promises and this has caused people's
disappointment," Montazeri said.
Jailed and tortured under the former Shah for his close ties to Grand Ayatollah Roohollah Khomeini before the 1979 Islamic revolution, he spent five years under house arrest for criticizing Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the present leader of the Islamic Republic.
Freed conditionally about
two months ago, he nevertheless continue to express his criticism of the way the
clerical leaders govern the country and urging them to be more careful to
people's demands for greater freedom.
"This country and the
revolution belong to the people and the officials are their servants. If the
officials review their behavior, everything will be fine", he said told
Paul Hughes, seated
in his study in the city of Qom, the center of religious studies in Iran and cradle
of Shi'a militants.
Montazeri said the
restrictive climate in Iran, where scores of liberal publications have been
closed and dozens of writers, students and political activists jailed in the
last four years, was forcing thousands of Iran's best minds to leave the
He highlighted the actions
of the judiciary, where the Special Court for Clergy and Revolutionary Courts
have jailed dozens of Khatami supporters in recent years, often after
closed-door trials without a jury.
"We do not have Special
Courts and Revolutionary Courts in our constitution, both have been invented.
They should close these courts and stop the judiciary's harshness. Then many
things could become better", pointed out the Grand Ayatollah who was
instrumental in the writing of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic.
Montazeri, sidelined by
Khomeini in 1988 for criticizing the mass execution of political prisoners, has
recently returned to teaching after a bout of heart problems leading up to and
following his release from house arrest in January.
Analysts say hard-line
officials released Montazeri because of fears that his death while under arrest
could become a lightning rod for protests against the political system.
Around 300 men, including
many senior reformist clerics, packed into a simple classroom Wednesday to
listen to Montazeri's message of tolerance and equality.
"My point is that all
human beings, no matter whether they are believers or not, or whether they are
Muslims or not, should be respected", he told the attentive audience.
Friends say they are not
surprised Montazeri, who wears large black-rimmed glasses and sports a pointed
white beard, has returned with vigor to teaching and making his opinions known.
"He cannot be changed,
everyone knows that. He has never been scared of prison or exile or torture.
They described him like that in the SAVAK files", said Ayatollah Hoseyn
Mousavi-Tabrizi, referring to the Shah's feared secret police.
"If the situation continues like this, yes the turnout (in the February parliament vote) will be low," he said. ENDS MONTAZERI REUTERS INTERVIEW 31003
Highlights and some editing works and phonetisation of names are by IPS