TEHRAN (Inter Press Service) -- Iran's notoriously harsh treatment of dissidents seems to have reached a point where Tehran's popular police chief, Brig. Gen. Morteza Tala’i, has resigned in protest over the arrest of a well-known religious leader.
Tala’i, whose resignation was finally accepted by the Chief Commander of Law Enforcement Forces, last week, reportedly quit office over the Oct. 8 arrest of Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi along with some 300 of his loyal followers.
A letter from deputy intelligence minister to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, that has found its way to some Iranian websites, shows that the police chief had warned that he would resign if Kazemeini and his armed followers, who had barricaded themselves in and around the cleric's residence in a Tehran district, were treated harshly.
the protestors were first attacked with teargas by the vigilantes and militia and that Kazemeini's followers retaliated by taking hostages from among the plainclothesmen and the militia.
The crisis may been resolved through negotiations but, handled roughly by forces other than those under Talai's command, it turned into a standoff lasting several days between the dissident cleric's followers and the police, plainclothesmen and vigilantes, creating a tense situation in the neighbourhood.
After clashes broke out between the supporters and the vigilantes, security forces moved in. ''There were clashes between the people and the cult members. Law enforcement forces intervened to prevent unpredictable mishaps,'' a security official of the Tehran local administration was reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) as saying.
But more sympathetic reports said the protestors were first attacked with teargas by the vigilantes and militia and that Kazemeini's followers retaliated by taking hostages from among the plainclothesmen and the militia -- rather than from among people on the street as the official version would have it.
Following the arrests of 41 of his followers earlier, Kazemeini had written letters of protest to Kofi Annan, Xavier Solana and the Pope as well as to Ayatollah Khameneh’i and chief justice Ayatollah Shahroudi.
In his letter to the Pope, Kazemeini had claimed to be the leader of the biggest independent religious society in Iran and of having been harassed by the Islamic regime for years for advocating separation of religion and state.
"My only crime is that I don't want to mix politics with religion and lose my life in the hereafter for the sake of life in this world", he wrote in his letter to the Pope. "My house has been under siege by government forces for 50 days now. The orders to shoot me and my followers have been issued," he wrote, adding that his followers were being tortured in prison.
"Judging from the letters to the Pope and U.N. Secretary General, the Ayatollah (Kazemeini) seems to have had an exaggerated view of his mission or faulty advice from those around him because he claimed the crackdown on satellites dishes in Iran, a couple of months ago, was intended to block his voice from reaching the public or that the U.N. Security Council was going to issue a resolution following his letter to the Secretary General", an observer in Tehran, who did not want to be named, told IPS.
"Until a few months ago, he had been quite obscure and known only to a small group of followers in a poor southern Tehran district where his father had also preached in a mosque. He preached to a very large congregation at a stadium a few months ago after which he was summoned to the Special Court for the Clergy. After the arrests of a number of his followers, to which Amnesty International also reacted, he became famous,'' the observer added.
Another dissident cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, once chosen to succeed Ayatollah Khomeini, lived under house arrest for several years until 2003 and still commands a large following.
The clergy has come under strict regime control. All Friday prayer leaders are appointed by the state and any opposition to the state by clerics, politically or religiously, is severely punished by the Special Court for the Clergy, an extra-constitutional body that tries clergymen and has the power to sentence them to anything from disrobing to death. Kazemeini, who had earlier refused to attend a hearing of the same, was arrested under a warrant issued by that court.
The clergy has come under strict regime control. All Friday prayer leaders are appointed by the state and any opposition to the state by clerics, politically or religiously, is severely punished
Charges brought up against Kazemeini are yet to be officially announced. "I have been accused of claiming to be the 12th Imam or his representative but that is not true'', “Iranews” quoted him as saying. "I only defend the traditional religion”.
In an editorial that followed Kazemeini's arrest, the conservative “Jomhuri Eslami” newspaper called him a fraud who wanted to be known as a representative and medium of the ‘Imam in Occultation'. The paper also questioned his religious credentials and warned against "deviatory religious trends in the Islamic and revolutionary society of Iran".
Belief in the return of Imam Mahdi, the 12th Imam, is a fundamental tenet among Shiites who hold that he went into occultation by the order of God and that he will re-emerge on the judgment day to save the world. Shiites have been awaiting that for nearly twelve centuries now.
Among the Shi’ite Imams only the eighth has a shrine in Iran, the Jamkaran mosque near the city of Qom, founded a thousand years ago by a farmer who claimed to have been instructed by the Imam in Occultation in a dream. The mosque and site attract hundreds of pilgrims every day but on occasions like the birthday of the Imam, tens of thousands of people flood the mosque. Claims of miracles are common.
President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad in his address to the U.N. General Assembly referred to Imam Mahdi when he prayed to God to "bestow on humanity the Perfect Human, the One nations have been awaiting for". "I announce with a loud voice that today the world needs more than ever the Perfect Righteous Man, the True Saviour, who will bring justice, peace and brotherhood to the world," he said in his address. One of the first steps taken by the Ahmadinejad administration immediately after taking office last year was to allocate a huge budget for further development of the Jamkaran mosque.
Claims of being mediums of the Imam in Occultation, by clerics and laymen alike, are not rare. Over the past year alone several people, including a woman and an old cleric called Abtahi, (the father of former vice president Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi) have been arrested on this charge. Apparently quite a few had purely material motivations for making the claim," the observer said.
"Those who make such claims are usually arrested before they succeed in attracting followings large enough to pose threats to the religious and political establishment as they can be potentially very dangerous, considering the religious feelings and beliefs of the masses. Bearing in mind that he (Kazemeini) is considered an Ayatollah and a source of emulation by his followers he could have become quite a challenge," he said.
"Hardliners are paying for their own actions. They once successfully promoted “pulp religiosity”, and encouraged people to observe superficial aspects of religion with an emphasis on Shari’a and cult-like congregations were supported", a political analyst in Tehran told IPS.
"The melancholic wait for Imam Mahdi has been helpful (for the establishment) since the religious masses could be taken advantage of as voters. But subversion is the natural concomitant of such moves in a society like Iran's where disillusionment and depression is growing and cults of all kinds are threatening to distance the masses from the state", he explained. ENDS TALA’I 271006
Editor’s note: The above article was posted by Inter Press Service on 24 October 2006.
Some editing, phonetisation of names and highlights are by Iran Press Service