Iranians are mourning dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, following his death overnight at the age of 87. Montazeri, an architect of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution who is considered the spiritual father of the present reform movement, is to be buried on December 21 in the Shi'ite holy city of Qom.
Reports say many Iranians, including political
and religious figures, are traveling to Qom to attend the funeral.
According to unconfirmed reports, opposition supporters were gathering in the squares of the capital to mourn the loss and riot police were present in various parts of Qom.
Iranian news websites are also reporting that
opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karubi, are both planning to
attend the funeral.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has sent his condolences on the grand ayatollah's death.
During his lifetime, Montazeri was transformed from a founder of the Islamic Revolution to a harsh critic of its clerical establishment.
Reformist cleric Mohammad Taghi Fazel Meibodi tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Montazeri -- one of the world's highest Shi'ite authorities -- was regarded as a great defender of human rights in Iran.
"He was a 'Shi'ite source of emulation' whose beliefs extended well beyond the common practice of the religious schools. Particularly the issue of human rights was of a great importance for him and he used to read and follow the latest global developments of the issue," Meibodi says.
"He had also written a book about the civil rights, in which he emphasized on the personal rights of every single citizen. I have not seen a Shi'ite grand ayatollah that has such knowledge of human rights."
An architect of the 1979 revolution, Montazeri had been designated to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic Republic.
But the two fell out over Iran's human rights record and the conduct of the Iran-Iraq war a few months before Khomeini died of cancer in 1989.
With Montazeri forced aside, Iran's current
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, succeeded Khomeini instead.
Montazeri has long been a critic of Khamenei, frequently criticizing his religious qualifications, tyrannical rule, and reliance on security forces.
According to Radio Farda broadcaster Mehrdad Mirdamadi Khouzani, Montazeri has always stuck to Islamic values -- against pragmatism.
"Ayatollah Montazeri always mentioned this -- that Islamic teachings are to be followed even if they are against us when we are trying to implement power on people," Khouzani says.
In 1997, Montazeri famously clashed with Khamenei, whom he outranked in the religious hierarchy, suggesting that he was unqualified to be supreme leader. This led to the closure of his religious school and an attack on his office in Qom. He was placed under house arrest for five years.
Despite political isolation, Montazeri remained an inspiration for Iranian reformists and a respected religious figure.
Montazeri was viewed by some reformist figures as the spiritual father of the opposition Green Movement, which emerged following the country's highly contentious presidential election in June.
Despite his old age and failing health, Montazeri
backed the opposition's claims that the election result, which gave President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory, had been widely rigged.
In August, Montazeri described the clerical establishment as a "dictatorship," saying the authorities' handling of street unrest following the presidential poll "could lead to the fall of the regime."
... Payvand News - 12/20/09 ... --