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01/05/2010 01:34 PM

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.

'Let Them Arrest Me'

SPIEGEL: Do you think Mousavi is the right man for the position? Isn't the former prime minister also a politician of the past?

Montazeri: Mousavi never claimed to be the leader of the movement. As far as the future of our country is concerned, a council would have to be convened that would include both Mousavi and the opposition politician and cleric Mahdi Karroubi, as well as the highly respected reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani should also be included. They are my friends, and I share their positions. Mousavi and Karroubi attended my father's funeral and paid a -- nonpolitical -- visit to my house to offer their condolences. I do not see myself playing an advisory role. I see my role as a human rights activist, not as someone who is active in politics.

SPIEGEL: Can those things even be separated in the current situation?

Montazeri: You're right, that's difficult in Iran today. These days, every ordinary police officer, every bazaar merchant and every teacher is politically active. Those on the frontlines, when things start to escalate, are usually young people, students and workers. But the peaceful demonstrations now include people from all levels of society and from all age groups -- men, women, deeply religious women in full veils and those with more secular views, hardly veiled at all. Mousavi and Karroubi speak the language of one part of the opposition …

SPIEGEL: … and yet one sometimes has the impression that they are running after the movement. Haven't they in fact become merely the figureheads of the opposition, while those who are willing to do anything are the ones calling the shots?

Montazeri: Mousavi and Karroubi have consistently stressed that they do not represent all of the disappointed. And they don't want violence, either. My friends and I have repeatedly recommended that the people in the streets remain calm, and that they should practice patience. A problem like ours cannot be solved in a day. But if young people are forced to look on as their friends are beaten, arrested or even shot dead on the streets, any attempts to convince them to exercise moderation will soon fail. And, to be honest, I find it understandable, even if I don't approve of it.

SPIEGEL: Mousavi's nephew was shot and killed during the Ashura protests. Do you know any further details about the incident?

Montazeri: It wasn't as if he were simply shot by accident. It was undoubtedly a targeted effort. We have heard from several sources that it was planned well in advance by the authorities, who also carried it out. It may have been intended as a sort of final warning to Mousavi. I don't possess prophetic gifts, which is why I don't known whether he'll be shot and killed one day, or whether the regime will arrest him. The consequences would be catastrophic.

SPIEGEL: What would they be?

Montazeri: It has been shown, again and again, that suffering and casualties accompany historic processes, with many people arrested, tortured and executed. Many lose their families. The outcome can only be evaluated at the end of such bloody processes. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini once said: "Our fathers are not our guardians, and what right did they have to determine this form of government for us?"

SPIEGEL: You expect to see revolutionary excesses, with a bloodbath?

Montazeri: I hope that it doesn't happen that way. I still hope that those in power will come to their senses, that they will accept compromises and choose the path to national reconciliation. If they don't, my country will be in far worse shape in a year's time than it is today.

SPIEGEL: Will Ahmadinejad still be president in 12 months, and will Khamenei still be the supreme religious leader?

Montazeri: Ahmadinejad is not suited for the office of president.

SPIEGEL: For which office is he suited?

Montazeri: Perhaps for the office of mayor of a small town. I prefer not to comment on Khamenei. However, my late father was firmly convinced that he lacks the qualifications for his office.

SPIEGEL: By making such statements, you are running the risk of being arrested yourself. Aren't you afraid for yourself and for the safety of your family?

Montazeri: I have been in prison several times already. Most recently, I spent 325 days in solitary confinement. I'm not afraid. Let them arrest me. Let them come, if they want to.

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