Action memorandum 037

December 4, 1997

Attacks against senior clerics are only the beginning

The authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran recently launched anunprecedented series of coordinated attacks against two of the highestreligious authorities in the land, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeriand Grand Ayatollah Ahmad Azari-Qomi.

On November 19, armed thugs supported by agents of the regime's Ministryof Information & Security - the intelligence service - burst into thehouse of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri in Qom, ransacking his office and physicallybeating the 75-year old cleric, then carried him off to an undiscloseddetention center. Grand Ayatollah Azari-Qomi was also arrested.

On November 26, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, AyatollahAli Khamene'i, announced in a televised speech that the two had "committed treason against the people, the revolution and the country,"and commanded the Judiciary Branch to ensure they were "punished accordingto the law."

Under current Iranian law, treason is punishable by death. Convictionson charges of treason are most frequently handed down in closed tribunals.

The Foundation for Democracy in Iran is concerned that Grand AyatollahMontazeri and Grand Ayatollah Azari-Qomi may be prisoners of conscience,since their crime was to have publicly questioned the religious credentialsof the regime's Supreme Leader, and to have called for democratic changesin Iran's system of government. We have asked United Nations SecretaryGeneral Kofi Annan to intervene on their behalf. The Foundation believesthat the recent mob violence, carried out on the orders of the ruling faction,is only the beginning of a much wider crackdown against the traditionalclergy, who are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to theregime's doctrine of "Velayat-e faghih," or absolute clericalrule. That opposition was demonstrated yet again today by Grand AyatollahSadegh Rouhani, who has been under house arrest in Qom since 1985, in afatwah he faxed to Foundation board member Mehdi Rouhani in Paris, condemningthe Velayat-e faghih doctrine as "contrary to Islamic law."

The violent attacks by brown-shirted thugs is also be intended to delivera lesson to the twenty million Iranians who voted for freedom this pastMay by massively rejecting the regime's hand-picked candidate for Presidentand supporting the candidacy of a more moderate cleric, Hojjat-ol eslamMohammad Khatami. As a prominent student leader in Tehran, Mr. FatohollahMoradi, told an exile radio station in Los Angeles shortly after the attack,"We are afraid [Montazeri] might have been killed. We are afraid forour lives."

The Foundation believes that with these attacks against the clergy abattle royal has been joined, which could shake the regime to its core.

The Foundation for Democracy in Iran is a private, non-profit corporationregistered in the State of Maryland. Contact: Kenneth R. Timmerman, ExecutiveDirector. Tel: (301) 946-2918. Fax: (301) 942-5341. FDI materials, includingthe FDI Newswire, are available free-of-charge via the Internet at