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Updated: December 20, 2009 23:18 IST

Iran’s leading dissident cleric dead

Atul Aneja
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Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri
AP
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri

Iran’s renowned dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri died on Sunday. He was 87

A one time inner-circle ally of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Montazeri later fell out with the founder of the Islamic Republic and failed to become Iran’s Supreme Leader, as had been designated in 1985.

He remained a staunch critic of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who emerged as the Supreme Leader, as well as of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He sided with the opposition following the disputed June 12 presidential elections. He called for a three-day mourning after Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman, was killed during a protest in Tehran on June 22.

Ayatollah Montazeri shot into prominence when as an ally of Imam Khomeini, he organised street protests against the Shah. He was appointed Imam Khomeini’s representative in Iran after the latter was sent into exile.

Ayatollah Montazeri played a pivotal role in drafting Iran’s Constitution, and wrote extensively defending the doctrine of Vilayat-e-Faqih, which gave the chief jurisprudent the final authority in religious and executive matters. He also served on the Assembly of Experts, a body which monitors the Supreme Leader’s activities and, theoretically, has the authority to remove him.

Ayatollah Montazeri’s divergence from Imam Khomeini’s path surfaced on the question of human rights, including the fatwa that was issued against noted writer Salman Rushdie. In November 2009, he said that the occupation of the American embassy and the hostage crisis that followed soon after the revolution had been a mistake.

In Iran, there is speculation that Ayatollah Montazeri’s death may spur fresh protests timed with the December 27 Ashura religious ceremonies observed by Shias.

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