Under what law is Montazeri to be prosecuted?


We have often argued that the Islamic Republic cannot become a state based on the rule of law. Can we use a recent pronouncement by the supreme clerical ruler 1 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’ to once again illustrate this point. In a recent speech, which more than anything showed Khamenei’s political panic and personal insignificance, he demanded that Ayatollah Montazeri be prosecuted under the “law”.

The whole episode gives a very telling picture of the rule of “law” in the Islamic Republic and for the prospects of imposing that “law” which the new president so generously promised and some people - even some who should know better - so gullibly fell for:

First a group of thugs attack Montazeri’s house, smash what they do not loot, savagely beat up the man himself. Then fellow mobs parade in various towns shouting marg bar zeddeh velayateh faghih (death to anyone opposing the supreme leader), and in speech after speech accuse Montazeri of working for the intelligence services of America and Israel. Then when even such arch reactionaries as Ayatollah Meshgini 2 feel too embarrassed by the display, effusively thank the “spontaneous” eruption of anti-Montazeri feeling, and ask them to allow the “law” to deal with the man and punish him for his deeds.

Who is Montazeri?

Montazeri is no mean figure. After Ayatollah Khomeini, he is the most well known and  influential religious marja’ taqlid 3 amongst those who built, and maintain, the present political system ruling Iran. He is, moreover, the most important theoretician of the velayate faghih (even compared to Khomeini himself). Finally he was Khomeini’s designated successor before being removed in 1988 after differences over policies towards opponents. Compare the writings of Khomeini and Montazeri to see the imprints of Montazeri’s views on the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. He is the most influential member of the cast who rule Iran under the guise of interpreters of the will of Allah.

In short according to all the laws, traditions, and theories of this regime, if anyone has a  right of citizenship, it must surely be Montazeri. The rest of us are the serfs of the spiritual leader. In the theory of velayate faghih none of us can tell the difference between good and bad and, indeed, the whole edifice of the clerical rulership has been constructed to cope with our “ignorance”. The supreme clerical leader is our custodian (qayyem), and we are like sheep who if separated from our shepherd would surely be lost. The velayate faghih embodies every rights and the rest of us are only carry duties. At its most pithy definition, the system of velayate faghih is the expression of this ignorance and absence of rights on our part in contrast with the all knowing, all powerful, clerical ruler.

Khamenei’s testament

This was a principle which Khamenei’ repeated with uncanny frankness only last month: “the leadership means that point where the insoluble problems of government is solved at his hands. His person lights up the truth for the people and exposes the conspiracies of the enemy ... stands up against international political conspiracies and counterpoises the totality of the revolution against conspirators, forcing the enemy to retreat. Confronted by the divisive tactics of the enemy, the leadership is the source of friendship and a deterrent to divisions, [he] joins hands together...”

Montazeri, according to all the values of the system is above these. As a learned religious jurisprudence (faghih) and mujtahid 4  he can understand the will of God and explain these to others. Indeed all “accepted” interpretations of the velayate faghih  agree that the authority of the spiritual leader is only relative in relation to other faghihs. In other words these other faghihs have rights in relation to the clerical ruler, can have views different from his and can insist on these views. Indeed, according to most traditions the spiritual leader acquires his legitimacy through the affirmation of these senior clerics. Without the independence of views and the right to ijtihad 5 , the Assembly of Experts, which according to the Constitution can appoint and remove the spiritual leadership becomes a total farce.

Montazeri’s crime

What are his crimes, and on the basis of which laws they intend to prosecute him? For conspiring against the Islamic Republic? Everyone knows that he accepts the ruling order. He explicitly declared this in the same recent speech, which so angered Khamenei’. Indeed he still naively warned “By Allah, if these same people see that the Islamic order, that is Islam, is being driven under, they will rebel!”

Will he be tried for opposing the velayate faghih and the Constitution? He has not said one word in this regard. He sees himself, perfectly justifiably, as one of the architects of velayate faghih.

Is it for the crime of trying to remove the current leader? Even on this score he has said nor done anything. Is his crime to criticise the leader? But this is not a crime - especially coming from a Grand Ayatollah and a mujtahid 4 If this is a crime then what happens to the central religious duty of amre be maruf and nahy al monker 6 .

According to the screaming mobs his greatest crime is to pain the heart of the “late Imam Khomeini”. But Khomeini has been dead 8 years, and even then, it is no crime to criticise the “late Imam”. He is accused of leaking the secrets of the regime, but what secrets? Do they mean the Irangate affair? In that fiasco the ones who committed murder and betrayal were the ones who sent our youth in their thousands to their death with the slogan of death to America and death to Israel, while secretly dealing with McFarlane. Or is his crime to write a letter to Khomeini opposing the mass murder of thousands of political prisoners in a few days? If so why don’t Montazeri’s accusers say so openly? They know full well what tumult will ensue if that can of worms is opened.

Some foolishly claim that his crime is to ignore Khomeini’s will cautioning him not to interfere in politics. Yet Khomeini’s injunction had ignored and made ridiculous all the requirements and conjunctures of the velayate faghih. How can those at the top who warn daily of the satanic plot to separate religion form state and continuously reiterate  “our religion is exactly our politics and our politics is exactly our religion” prevent a supreme mujtahid from interfering in politics?

No, whichever rule, reality or tradition in the current regime you care to look up, Montazeri has committed no crime to merit “legal” prosecution.  This, however, will not trouble the Islamic Republic. It has never been a regime of the rule of law, and never will be.

Here the most important law is the law of might. The formula used to disguise this is the “expediency of the Islamic Order”, and has its own organ that stands above all elected organs: the Expediency Council. This expediency is nothing more than the expediency of the leader. In 16th Century France La Roi du Soleil proclaimed “L’etat c’est moi!”. In the Islamic Republic on the eve of a new millennium the state is the spiritual leader. This is precisely what Ayatollah Khamenei’, despite his magnanimous show of humility, publicly admitted.

Montazeri’s greatest crime is that he ignored the “expediency of the Islamic order”. They will punish him for this crime. That is if they can. The law of might, after all, is an exercise in capability!

Yusef Osku’i

December 7



1 Valayate faghih - now occupied by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’ - who according to Article 5 of the Constitution has total power over both civil and political society.


2 One of the ultra-reactionary senior clerics, head of the Assembly of Experts and close to Khamenei' 


3 Source of emulation. In Shi’ism the faithful are encouraged to follow (emulate = taqlid) a high ranking Shiite religious leader (marja’) in their religious observance.


4 A senior cleric capable of interpretative reasoning.


5 Interpretative reasoning


6 One of the fundamental duties of the faithful is to publicise religious duties and warn against sin.

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