Dr Gill Gillespie, UK Director
Some of our readers may be concerned that we are writing on behalf of an Iranian Ayatollah. After all, our refugees have suffered greatly at the hands of the Iran regime, which is ruled with an iron fist by Islamist clerics. Indeed, its ‘Supreme Leader’ is Ayatollah Khamenei. There are, however, some clerics in Iran who firmly believe in the separation of religion from politics, and, as a consequence, have been severely punished for it. A few Ayatollahs have even criticized the gross human rights violations committed by Khamenei and the Iran regime. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri was one, and Hossein Boroujderdi is another of these brave men.
Montazeri was next in line to be ‘Supreme Leader ‘ in Iran after Khomenei. His campaign for human rights and, in particular, better treatment of the opponents of the Islamic republic in prisons, however, brought him into direct conflict with Khomeini. In 1987, thousands of prisoners were executed without proper trial, leading Montazeri to write to the ayatollah that his prison system and his judiciary were worse than that of the Shah. Ultimately, Khomeini sent Montazeri a letter dismissing him from the succession. Due to his bravery, Montazeri was subjected to a period of house arrest (1997-2003), and his courage in expressing his views earned him respect across the political spectrum. He issued many statements supporting those who opposed the election results in June 2009. He died in December 2009 and his death sparked many demonstrations, supporting his stance against the regime’s human rights violations and for the separation of religion from politics.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi is a brave man who has similar beliefs. He has, however, suffered even more seriously at the hands of the Iran regime. To quote Michael Ledeen in his article ‘Save Ayatollah Boroujderdi’, P J Media, 21 July 2013:
“A brave and good man is dying. Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi is incarcerated in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, as he has been since 2006. He is routinely tortured, denied medication for his grave ailments (including heart disease), and under 24-hour surveillance by officers of the Intelligence Ministry. This sort of treatment is reserved for Iranians judged to be a serious threat to the tyrannical Iranian regime.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi threatens the regime for two reasons: he advocates toleration of all religious (and non-religious) beliefs, and, in keeping with Shi’ite tradition, opposes the involvement of religious leaders in politics. Years ago, he said “the regime is adamant that either people adhere to political Islam or be jailed, exiled or killed. Its behavior is no different from that of Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar.”
He has repeatedly criticized the fundamentalist doctrines of the Iranian theocratic state, and has dramatically spoken about the most explosive issues in the Muslim world, including anti-semitism. In 2010 he sent Hanukkah greetings to the Jews of the world, saying “any religious belief that brings us closer to the Source (God) is the truth. This force will lead humanity towards enlightenment. On this great day, we celebrate the unity among the believers of God’s light.”
The regime has not executed him, fearing public protest. He remains one of the most revered men in Iran. At the time of his arrest, he operated a hundred telephone lines to assure ongoing contact with his followers and allies, and his public meetings were so well attended that he was forced to hold them in a public stadium. The regime would undoubtedly prefer that he die in prison, so they could claim he succumbed to medical problems.
According to his family and supporters, Ayatollah Boroujerdi is indeed in critical condition. In the past, prisoners in death camps have been treated better if their captors were aware of widespread attention and concern. Even in the Nazi death camps, inmates slated for execution did better if they regularly received letters and packages (the Danes were particularly good at organizing such campaigns), and if their names were on requests for clemency from foreign governments to the officials of the Reich.”
Ayatollah Boroujerdi wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, in November 2011. In it he asks for the human rights violations of the “inhumane and violent regime” to be stopped, through international pressure and communication. Despite some sanctions implemented by the West since 2009, sadly, these are only concerned with nuclear issues and not human rights, which all reputable sources inside and outside Iran rightly identify as being the priority for the Iranian people. Hossein Boroujerdi’s family also wrote to Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, requesting that he visit Ayatollah Boroujerdi in Evin Prison. At this point, he had been beaten, tortured and denied medical treatment. This psychological and physical torture has continued until now, when Ayatollah Boroujerdi’s supporters and family believe the torture he continues to suffer will soon result in his death. Social networking sites have been the subject of Twitter and Facebook storms, such as #FreeBoroujerdi, in the last few days in an attempt to bring his plight to the attention of the media and politicians. The strength of support for Boroujerdi can be seen in a petition to free him, signed by more than half a million people, a number unprecedented on the petition site and indicating huge condemnation of the actions of the Iran regime around the world.
The Iranian Refugees Action Network believes that Western politicians and media must put pressure on the Iran regime to release Ayatollah Boroujderdi, as well as all innocent political prisoners. If they do not, there should be NO negotiation whatsoever with the regime, on any grounds. This kind, gentle and brave man must not be allowed to die at the hands of a regime which believes it can ride roughshod over every agreement it has ever made with the UN, EU and the West. It is time for the West to stand up for what is right, and demand the freedom of Ayatollah Boroujderdi, and, subsequently, the downfall of a regime which treats its people like this. Western politicians must also not forget that, since the wrongly claimed ‘moderate’ Rouhani was elected in June 2013, there has been a huge increase in the execution of prisoners (most who were deliberately not identified by the Iran regime), with over 80 in just three weeks. Human rights violations have been accelerated, and Ayatollah Boroujerdi can not be allowed to become yet another of the regime’s victims because he is brave enough to stand up for the rights of his people.