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Iran's Top Dissident Cleric Montazeri Laid To Rest Amid Protests

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 21.12.2009 12:44
By Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran's top dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, was buried today in the shrine of Masoumeh, a revered Shi'ite figure, in the holy city of Qom.

Opposition websites and witnesses are reporting that tens of thousands of people attended the funeral procession.

Montazeri died on December 19 at the age of 87 years old. He was considered one of the most respected and highest Shi'ite religious authorities.

Monatzeri, once considered a successor to the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had become one of the fiercest critics of the Iranian clerical establishment. In recent months, Montazeri had become the spiritual father of Iran's opposition Green Movement.

Government Criticism

A large crowd of his supporters who were attending his funeral chanted antigovernment slogans as they paid him their last respects.

Among them was this man who spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Farda on condition of anonymity.

“The crowd started [gathering around the home of Montazeri] and mourning from 7 a.m. this morning by chanting 'Allah Akbar' and other chants," he said.

"I think you might be able to hear some of the chants now: 'Today is a day of mourning,' 'The green Marja [the source of emulation] of Iran is with God today.'"

Another witness told Radio Farda that mourners were also shouting slogans such as "Death to the Dictator" and "Montazeri, your path will continue."

In one amateur video reportedly from today's funeral, mourners are chanting, "Political prisoners must be released."

Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, who reportedly attended Montazeri's funeral, have declared today a day of national mourning.

A number of political and religious figures traveled to Qom to attend the funeral. Last night, a prominent scholar disciple of Montazeri, Ahmad Ghabel, and several other activists were detained on their way to the holy city.

Opposition websites are reporting scattered clashes today between people attending the funeral of Montazeri and hard-liners.

A reformist website "Norooznews" reports that police forces clashed with people who were chanting antigovernment slogans after the funeral proceedings. According to the report, protesters threw stones at the security forces.

Many reports coming out of Iran can not be independently verified, as foreign media have been banned from travelling to Qom for the event.

Around the country, many Iranians have been mourning Montazeri's death.

Several protests and vigils took place in Montazeri's hometown of Najaf Abad and Shiraz. In Tehran, mourners chanted slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Messages of condolence have been pouring in from political and religious figures including former President Mohammad Khatami, who described Montazeri's death as a great loss, and Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shiran Ebadi, who called Montazeri "the father of human rights in Iran."

Media Restrictions

Opposition websites reported on December 20 that the Culture Ministry had ordered newspapers not to publish front-page pictures and long condolence messages for Montazeri, except for the one issued by Supreme Leader Khamenei.

In that message, Khamenei asked God to forgive Montazeri over a "difficult and critical test" that he faced towards the end of Khomeini's life.

A Tehran-based journalist, who did not want to be named, told RFE/RL that newspapers had received orders to limit their coverage regarding the cleric's death: "As a result, today most of the newspapers were forced not to publish a picture of Montazeri on their front pages even though most of them wanted to."

Montazeri had been marginalized over his criticism of Iran's human rights record and the conduct of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. He was put under house arrest for several years after he challenged the authority of Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini after his death in 1989.

After his release Montazeri became a dissident voice and a defender of human rights.

He had long been a critic of Khamenei, frequently questioning his religious qualifications and what he called his tyrannical rule.

Montazeri had condemned the postelection unrest that left a number of dead and injured. In August, he said Iran's handling of the unrest "could lead to the fall of the regime."

Radio Farda broadcasters Alireza Kermani and Kian Manavi contributed to this report

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Irans_Opposition_To_Mourn_Dissident_Cleric/1909227.html

Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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