Jailed Iranian Ayatollah Calls Regime 'Worse and More Evil than ISIS or the Taliban'
by Stephen Schwartz
Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi has been imprisoned in his native land since 2006. In a statement on November 7, he announced a hunger strike from his cell in Tehran's Evin House of Detention, notorious for the political and spiritual dissidents held and abused there.
Boroujerdi's meditations appeared on the occasion of Ashura, which recalls the murder in the 7th century of Imam Hussein, grandson of Muhammad and an opponent of the reigning Islamic caliphate, at the Battle of Karbala in Iraq. Ashura and the remembrance of Karbala--a time for mourning rather than a holiday--are especially prominent in Shia Islam.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi took the occasion this year to describe the Iranian state as "worse and more evil than Daesh [the Arabic name for the Islamic State] and the Taliban." He warned that the Khomeinist doctrine of "guardianship by the jurisprudent" or velayet-e faqih, i.e. clerical command in politics, had handed over Iran's wealth to "authoritarian Pharaonic rulers" in Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and among the Palestinians. The incarcerated ayatollah compared the atrocities of the caliphate in killing Imam Hussein and his followers at Karbala more than 1,330 years ago with Khomeinism, and pledged "aggressive" opposition to the dominant Iranian ideology.
The captive cleric equated the traditional Shiite narration of the tragedy of Karbala forcefully with "enumeration of the crimes of political Islam . . . inflicted on the freedom-loving people." In addition, he described the methods of Tehran as "demoniac and brutal." In committing himself to a hunger strike, he called for "liberation of my compatriots from the harassment of God-mongering clergy."
In a commentary dated November 6, Boroujerdi indicted the heads of the Iranian dictatorship on the application of death penalties for religious interpretations contrary to state dogma. When he was arrested in 2006, he was sentenced to execution, but the judgment was reduced to 11 years imprisonment. In his inquiry regarding capital punishment for intellectual differences, he wrote, "Under the auspices of a tyrannical regime, one cannot expect anything but distress, sorrow and grief—was the oppressed Iranian nation granted anything else other than this during the past thirty-five years?"
He continued, "In the name of Islam [the official Iranian clerics] interfere in the affairs of all countries. . . . They speak about the Palestinian children, while Iranians of all ages draw their last breath because of the pressures they experience; the ruling regime, which claims to be Islamic, allows itself under such a label to send troops to any region it wishes, and to spend the limitless and extensive wealth of the looted people on the digging of trenches, and exporting the revolution. . . . I ask all the intellectuals in the world if it is a crime to interpret a religion in a way which is different from the interpretation offered by political Islam. . . . Is there repression in any part of the world similar to what can be seen in our land? The headstrong and complacent judge tells me, 'either you adopt the religion of the Islamic revolution, or you will be killed.' "
Ayatollah Boroujerdi has long been known for his sharp challenges to the Iranian overlords and advocacy for separation of religion from the state. His principles accord with the precedents of Shia Islam, whose clerics refrained from involvement in politics before the Khomeini revolution of 1979.
Interviewed in 2009, Ayatollah Boroujerdi described terrorism and its association with Tehran as follows: "The terrorist doesn't understand logic. . . . Unfortunately, the Iranian government has supported terroristic actions in the world, especially in the Middle East overtly, secretly and multilaterally." At the same time, he addressed a topic seldom mentioned in discussions of Iranian intrigues: that Shiism permits taqiyya or dissimulation—concealment of one's real opinions—if an individual is threatened. He said, "I don't believe in the unreal promises of the leaders and authorities of the Iranian government. . . . I know them only as a political tactic for the purpose of deceiving the world." He accused the Iranian clerics of employing the concept of taqiyya to justify "hypocrisy, lying, trickery and imposture." But if the Iranian leaders use taqiyya in politics, what must the world think about their promises of sincerity in nuclear negotiations?
A document by Ayatollah Boroujerdi released in October, on the the anniversary of his 2006 arrest, asked how Tehran could "condemn and declare jihad against armed radical groups [i.e. ISIS and the Taliban] who are slaughtering and spreading violence and terror in the name of the Prophet's caliphate, but forget about those [in Iran] who are nourishing terrorists in neighboring countries."
Referring to the Iranian authorities as "fascistic," he wrote, "the outcome of thirty five years of the ruling Islamic Republic in Iran has been that of censorship of the media, disappearance of freedom of thought, development of large prisons, rejection of intellectuals, and the oppression of religious opinions. . . . The only thing that remains in our looted country is the war machine."
In July of this year, Ayatollah Boroujerdi was threatened in Evin prison, in his own recounting, by Mohammad Movahedi, a former prosecutor for Iran's Special Clerical Tribunal, and now a judge. Movahedi told Boroujerdi, reportedly, that if he did not go on national television to apologize to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, he would be moved to solitary confinement under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and "eliminated."
According to the followers of Ayatollah Boroujerdi outside Iran, the nonconforming man of faith was transferred from the Evin lockup to an unknown place at the beginning of October. The official action came after Boroujerdi addressed a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, dated September 22, in which he asked, "[R]espected members of this assembly; as you are gathered together please hear the cries of the Iranian people. . . . Do you not see that Iran is ruled by tyranny?"
Ayatollah Boroujerdi's disciples were concerned that the move to an undisclosed location presaged his execution, but he was returned to Evin, where he declared his hunger strike. This latest protest takes place even as he suffers from a range of medical problems.
In a 2008 "complaint" addressed to the world powers, Ayatollah Boroujerdi named Russia and China as accomplices of Tehran, specifying, "It is obvious to everyone that extensive support by Russia and China have increased the internal dictatorship in Iran." He appealed for assistance to the pope, to Jewish intellectuals (for whom he had expressed his respect previously), and to Islamic religious leaders, concluding, "Governments on the side of the religious regime of Iran, be informed that all of you are sharing in massacre of our poor people."
It is shameful to imagine that the United States, which Ayatollah Boroujerdi had refrained previously from criticizing, may now be added to the tally of countries abetting the cruelties of the Iranian state, thanks to the "diplomatic" initiatives of the Obama administration. U.S. leaders should heed the voices from Evin and other Iranian prisons, rather than the deceptive manipulations conveyed by the regime's public representatives.