Ayatollah Dr. Mehdi Haeri Khorshidi
Iranian National Conference
Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Iran Sanctions Act - One Year Later
July 23, 1997
Mr. Chairman, distinguished Members of Congress, I want to thank you for inviting me to testify before this very important hearing. I can assure you the work you are doing and what is said here today is being watched very carefully and with great interest both in my country and in the Iranian diaspora.
I speak here today on behalf of all the Iranian people who yearn for freedom, not for any single group or organization.
It is not without considerable personal risk that I have come here today for we all are only too well aware of the Tehran regime's penchant for assassinating its opponents and critics, but the work you and we are doing is of greater importance than one man and must not be stopped by threats and intimidation.
I appear here before you, an Iranian, a son of a deeply religious family, who spent most of his life in religious studies in the holy cities, particularly Qom and Najaf, where I was a disciple of Ayatollah Khamenehi and a classmate of President- Elect Khatami. I willingly relinquished my high position in the Court of Ayatollah Khamenehi, who we thought would become a new Ghandi but turned out to be a Nero, and went to prison because I dared to write a book about the absolute necessity to separate religion from the state if we Iranians wish to protect and preserve the dignity of Islam, the true teachings of the Holy Koran, the integrity of our homeland and our ancient civilization. I spent four years in prison before I managed to escape to Germany, where, mercifully, I was given sanctuary.
I consider it an Act of God to have been given this unique opportunity to come here to this haven of freedom and democracy in order to tell you, speaking as I am in the name of the many millions of silent, oppressed, humiliated Iranians, who are looking to you, to the American people, for encouragement and hope, to tell you thank you, thank you very much, for your Iran Libya Sanctions Act, the only effective response so far to the evil regime which now dominates our lives in Iran. It is the only response which effectively succeeded in beginning to contain the pernicious designs of the present rulers in Tehran.
I know my time is limited and I wish to be very brief. Let me state here and now that your Act of containment has succeeded beyond any expectations. I am not the only one who claims this. Let me give you two pointed examples from official Iranian sources:
There are many other similar admissions of their failure and your success. What more does one need to be convinced of the value of this law?
The 20 million voters who represent 69.5 percent of the Iranian electorate did not vote for Mr. Khatami but against Ayatollah Khamenehi, the so-called Divine Guide who, according to the present Constitution, still wields absolute authority in Iran, and will continue to do so until the people of Iran will tell him "No more" --
The vast majority of the people in Iran do not want these dangerous policies, they do not subscribe to them and they abhor those who have devised them and try to spread the madness.
While the rulers in Iran today may believe that what they are preaching and practicing is an obligation ordained by God, I am here to tell you that by pursuing those policies of hatred and destruction which they believe in, they are sinning against God, they are committing sacrilege, they defame Islam and cause millions of people to run away from it. From my intimate personal knowledge of the present rulers of Iran, I can assure you that these are certainly not people one can hope to conduct a rational dialogue with. Just look at what happened to Germany and how badly that country has been humiliated by Iran notwithstanding its "critical dialogue" with the government in Tehran.
What we seek is to do away with this madness and return to our deserted mosques, pray and let the people of Iran freely elect their representatives and leaders in a truly democratic way so that they may lead Iran out of the darkness of the Middle Ages and back into the family of nations, to once again become a respected and honorable member of the world community in which an Iranian passport is not considered a document issued by a rogue state.
Mr. Chairman, I am submitting with this testimony a brief article I have written about the need for separation of church and state in Iran, and I hope it can be included in the hearing record.
You Mr. Chairman and members of this distinguished committee and this honorable House can help us achieve freedom and democracy by continuing, to stick to your sanctions guns which have already achieved so much and will achieve so much more if you continue in this direction.
Do not be impressed by the guile and duplicity of the present rulers. They are destined to fail; there is no way that they can succeed in their quest to rule the Persian Gulf, to strangle the lifeline of the free flow of crude oil through the Straits of Hormuz, impose their pernicious and warped policies on their neighbors and threaten the whole region with terror, non-conventional weapons and sheer, brute force.
Mark my words, distinguished friends, more sanctions and more pressures are a proven recipe for more encouragement to the Iranian people to rise up and end their long, cruel nightmare of pain and oppression. Iranians will not forget that even at the time when the prospects of change in Iran looked bleak and remote, the United States of America stood firm in its principles, a beacon of freedom and inspiration.
And to those of your businessmen who feel that they have lost business opportunities in Iran as a result of your sanctions, I have only this to say:
I have so much more to tell you about the present state of affairs in Iran of the evils we must contend with daily as well as the hopes we place in the American people whose values so many millions of us have learnt to respect and to cherish.
Mr. Chairman, may God give you and this Congress and this nation the wisdom, strength and compassion required to support and lead us into a better brighter future. In this period in human history, when the people of the world are moving toward freedom and democracy, let us remember the words of our Holy Prophet, whose birthday is today, "It is a Moslem's duty to always advance with his times."
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
A special report on the struggle and suffering of the religious leaders and religious groups who believe in the separation of church and state in Iran
By Dr. Mehdi Haeri
Thirty-five years ago when Ayatollah Khomaini revolted against the rule of the Pahlavi regime, the majority of the religious leaders opposed him, believing the monarchy was the guardian of Shi'ism in Iran and any weakening of the regime would be harmful to Shi'ism. But in 1978-79 the religious leaders supported Ayatollah Khomaini when it became apparent that the Shah was no longer capable of proper decision making and the running of the country. Iran was in danger of disintegration and the loss of its sovereignty, independence ind religious freedom. This support, however, was not for the establishment of a religious regime.
Two months after the collapse of the monarchy, a large group of ayatollahs with the leadership of Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari, Ayatollah Qomi, Ayatollah Nadjafi Marashi, Ayatollah Khonsari and Ayatollah Sadeq Rohani distanced themselves from Ayatollah Khomaini, who intended to create an Islamic Government.
They said: "according to Shi'a beliefs an Islamic government is only possible with the permission of the 12th Imam who has been absent since the 10th century. Shi'as must submit to secular government until his return.
This belief has been respected for a thousand years."
The other major disagreement was the question of "Velayat Faqih" (the government of Islamic Jurists) , according to the Shi'a leaders who believe in the separation of church and state, Velaya Faqih has no basis or foundation in Islam.
During Ayatollah Khomaini's era, opposing Ayatollahs (Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari, Ayatollah Tabatabaee, Ayatollah Qomi and Ayatollah Rohani) were under house arrest, were not allowed to lead sermons, teach their classes, have visitors or leave the country. Their suffering became more serious after Ayatollah Khamaini passed away and was replaced by Khamenehi, who was of lower rank in the Shi'a hierarchy.
There are currently six Ayatollahs in Iran who believe in the separation of church and state, each of whom are considered "Sources of Emulation" by several million followers. About 400,000 seminarians' livelihood (income) depends on these Ayatollahs.
Khamenehi, who has no religious legitimacy to leadership and a small group (less than 10 percent) of religious leaders rule the country using Islam and applying dark ages methods to suppress the opposition.
In the city of Qom and other state capitals, Khamenehi has created a "special religious court" to handle matters related to the religious leaders and the men of the cloth. He supervises these courts through Mohammad Rayshahri (a mullah) who was head of the military tribunal after the revolution and later Minister of Information and Security. So far over 600 mullahs have been executed and over 2,000 are imprisoned, forbidden to wear their religious garb, give sermons or use their religious titles.
In the Fall of 1995, Ayatollah Araki died and Khamenehi took the title "Source of Emulation for Shi'a world wide." This took the struggle between the regime and the opposing religious leaders to a new high.
Two months later Khamenhi's "special religious court" agents attacked Ayatollah Mohammad Rehani's home and confiscated his books, his writing and his money which was kept in his house. Mohammad Rayshari ordered Ayatollah Rohani to pledge not to continue as "Source of Emulation" for his 7 million followers and not to have any visitors. His son, Mohammad Ali, was imprisoned as a hostage to secure their demands. He was finally released due to international pressure.
The foIIowing summer, during the night one hundred security agents attacked Ayatollah Sadegh Rahani's home (he has been under house arrest for 13 years), confiscated his books, his writing and his money. His youngest son, Javad, was arrested. Security forces set up security cameras in all strategic areas approaching the Ayatollah's house to monitor any possible visitors, who are then arrested and jailed.
Ayatollah Tabatabaee Qomi in Mashad suffered a similar experience of house arrest, confiscation and constant surveillance.
Last fall, security forces attacked Ayatollah Shirazi's house in Qom, confiscated his books, his writings and money and arrested his son, Morteza. The same day, in Tehran and Qom, 35 religious leaders who were Ayatollah Shirazi's followers were arrested, tortured and jailed. They are still in prison.
Two months later, Ayatollah Shirazi's youngest son, Mehdi, was arrested while on the way to a hospital in Tehran to visit his sick mother.
The regime told Ayatollahs Shirazi, Mohammed Rohani, Sadegh Rohani and other religious opposition leaders to accept the leadership Khamenehi, and their sons and supporters will be released. So far they have refused!
Since last Fall the arrest, torture and imprisonment of religious leaders and their associates has continued. Every week a few are arrested and incarcerated.
Ayatollah Mantazeri, who was originally chosen to replace Ayatollah Khomaini has been under house arrest for several years and scores of is students and supporters are in jail in Esfahan, Qom and Tehran. Visiting these Ayatollahs' homes - especially Ayatollahs Shirazi, Montazeri, Mohammed Rohani and Sadegh Rohani -- carries a jail term.
On January 16, 1997 at 1:00 a.m., security forces attacked 86-year-old Ayatollah Falli's home, interrogating him and his family for several hours. Then they arrested his son Hassein and the wife of his other son, Mohammad Bagheri, a Kuwaiti national who was visiting Iran.
So far this year scores of religious leaders, their students and their supporters have been arrested and jailed.
The majority of religious leaders and religious groups in Iran today oppose the Islamic regime. Not only do they believe in the separation of church and state but they believe that mullahs should return to their mosques, sermons and teaching.
Dr. Mehdi Haeri Spokesperson for Religious forces who believe in separation of church and state May 1997 Iranian National Conference
Dr. Mehdi Haeri Khorshidi
Dr. Mehdi Haeri Khorshidi is a well-known religious and civil legal scholar and one of the leaders of the Iranian democratic movement engaged in the struggle for freedom and democracy in Iran, and an outspoken advocate of church-state separation.
Ayatollah Haeri is currently living in exile in Germany, where he is been practicing law and teaching at the faculties of Middle East and Islamic studies and Bochum and Koln Universities.
Born in the city of Semnan in 1940 to a well-known religious family, he received a religious education there and eventually in the holy city of Qom at the spiritual center Hozieh Elmieh; he continued his studies at Najaf, Iraq. He was a disciple of the Ayatollah Khomeini and a classmate of President-elect Khatami. After seven years of studies he was awarded the religious title of "Mojtahed," which entitles him to issue religious rulings (fatwas).
Returning to Iran in 1968, he earned a master's degree and Ph.D. in law at the University of Tehran. He is the author of a six-volume work on Iranian civil law.
After the 1979 revolution he was appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini to the post of President of the Iranian Supreme Court, but he turned that down to become the religious affairs consultant to Prime Minister Mohandes Mehdi Bazargan. After the Bazargan government fell, he served as Head of the Legal Chancery of the State.
In 1981 he was arrested on charges of supporting President Bani-Sadr and jailed for publishing a book, Law Procedures in Islam, declaring the absolute necessity to separate religion from the state. He spent five years in various prisons before escaping and fleeing to Germany, where he received political asylum.
Since leaving Iran he has been a leader in efforts to replace the present oppressive regime in that country with a democratically elected government that respects the separation between religion and the state. He is the spokesperson of the Iranian National Conference on issues of religion and church-state separation. He is also the founder of the Council for the Defense of the Tenents of the Shia Religion, which has the support of more than 900 Islamic clerics, including many still living in Iran.
As a protégé of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, classmate of the current president-elect and a diaspora leader in close touch with many still inside Iran, he is one of the most authoritative sources outside Iran about that country's ruling circles.
He is in Washington this week to testify before the House Committee on International Relations in support of the Iran Libya Sanctions Act, which he feels has been effective and offer hope and promise to the oppressed people of Iran.
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