Concerns of Widespread Arrests in Wake of Ayatollah Montazeri’s Death
(20 December 2009) The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called on the Iranian government not to interfere with mourning ceremonies following the passing away of the Grand Ayatollah Montazeri in Qom and to end persecution and detention of his followers. The Campaign is seriously concerned that the government might target Grand Ayatollah Montazeri’s followers through a wave of detentions.
Ahmad Ghabel, a prominent student of Ayatollah Montazeri and a government critic, was arrested en route today as he was driving with his family from the Northeastern city of Mashhad towards Qom to attend the mourning ceremonies. Ayatollah Montazeri will be buried on Monday morning in Qom and large crowds of his followers are expected to converge in Qom for the burial ceremonies.
The Intelligence Ministry officials have called political activists and journalists, warning them that if they travel to Qom to attend the burial events, they will be arrested, the opposition website www.rahesabz.net reported. According to reports, riot police and security forces have occupied the main thoroughfares in Qom in anticipation of large protests.
Student groups have also called for commemoration gatherings in universities throughout the country. The Campaign is also concerned about violent repression of students by government security forces and Basij militias.
Ayatollah Montazeri was Iran’s highest ranking Shi’a scholar and also a fierce critic of the Islamic Republic’s human rights record. A founding father of the Islamic Republic, he was chosen as the heir to succeed Ayatollah Khomeini as the Supreme Leader in 1985. However, following the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, he became a vocal critic of the system and just before Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in June 1989 he was removed from his official positions.
Ayatollah Montazeri’s memoir is one of the most important historical documents detailing the manner in which the massacre of political prisoners took place in 1988. Ayatollah Montazeri, himself was a victim of human rights abuses and was put under house arrest for five years in the late 1990s.
During the last twenty years, Ayatollah Montazeri was one of the few Shi’a scholars to openly defend human rights and denounce widespread violations in Iran. He wrote extensively about the importance of promoting and respecting human rights within the framework of Shi’a scholarship. After the June 2009 elections and prevalent killings, torture, and rape of protestors, Ayatollah Montazeri was on the forefront of condemning these actions and challenging the legitimacy of the country’s political system by saying that the Islamic Republic is “neither Islamic nor Republic.”