Saeed Montazeri on Protests in Iran 'It Can't Go On Like This'
Saeed Montazeri, son of the leading Iranian dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, talks to SPIEGEL about who is responsible for his father's recent death, reformists' chances of success and why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not suited to be president.
SPIEGEL: Hojatoleslam Montazeri, we have reached you on your mobile phone. Where are you at the moment? Are you under house arrest?
Saeed Montazeri: I am in my house in Qom, which is next to my father's house. Officially, my movements are not restricted. But the windowpanes occasionally rattle. It is apparently regime thugs who want to provoke me. My father's office is being tightly controlled by security agents. His hosseiniyeh (religious institute) was closed 12 years ago and occupied by the thugs.
SPIEGEL: Were you at least able to give your father, who was seen as one of the most respected clerics in Iran and a mentor of the opposition movement, a dignified burial?
Montazeri: The security forces only showed restraint for the first 24 hours after his death. Immediately after the funeral, they began rioting in front of my father's house and insulting him with chants.
SPIEGEL: Who were these people? Were they soldiers in uniform or police officers?
Montazeri: No, the men in uniform just stood by and watched. It was the Basij militias, who had clearly been sent by the regime, who became violent. For the first time in Qom, however, we also heard counter-demonstrators chanting their determined slogans. "Down with the dictator!" they shouted. It can't go on like this for much longer.
SPIEGEL: The seventh day after the death of your father, a traditional day of mourning, coincided with the Ashura festival. In Tehran and other big cities, there was an escalation of violence and at least eight deaths
Montazeri: for which government bodies are responsible. They are to blame.
SPIEGEL: But there was also a new willingness among the protestors to use violence. They set police cars on fire and attacked Basij militias.
Montazeri: Ordinary people have no interest in setting property on fire. They wanted to demonstrate for their legitimate interests. They were provoked by the state.
SPIEGEL: Would your father, who advocated nonviolent resistance in his Islamic legal opinions, have seen it this way?
Montazeri: Without a doubt. My father consistently condemned state brutality and stressed that there is a religious right, even a religious obligation, to rise up against rulers who abuse their power. His commitment to this cause took years off his life. Even though the cause of his death was heart failure, the regime is partly responsible for his death, and not only because of their harassment of him. My father was very distressed about what this regime did to people in recent months.
SPIEGEL: Did your father, in his last days, feel that the Islamic Republic still stood a chance of surviving? Do you believe in the future of the theocracy?
Montazeri: Until the very end, my father hoped that those in power would come to their senses, so that our people could be spared serious harm. I believe that the form our future society takes is not that important. It can be an Islamic republic, a secular republic or, as far as I'm concerned, even a monarchy. The important thing is that people are able to live in freedom and prosperity, that they have freedom of movement and that their voices are heard.
SPIEGEL: Is such liberalization even possible under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?
Montazeri: It's difficult to say. Those responsible must first apologize for the misdeeds and repressive measures they have imposed on the people in the past few months. That would be the precondition for the Islamic Republic continuing to exist. And the presidency, after the resignation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would have to be given to the candidate who captured the most votes in the last elections: Mir Hossein Mousavi.
- Part 1: 'It Can't Go On Like This'
- Part 2: 'Let Them Arrest Me'