By Behrouz Setoodeh
[The following is a translation of an essay by Behrouz Setoodeh, published at: http://sokhansara.com/HTML/bahai.htm. Mr. Setoodeh is a prominent political and human rights activist, and articles by him have previously appeared on this site in translation. Mr. Setoodeh is not associated with the Baha’i community. Ahang Rabbani.]
Unlike Khomeini and Khamenei and other criminal mullahs in Iran, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri has not acquired his religious standing through deceit and political conniving. Throughout his life, he has demonstrated that, unlike other mullahs whose eyes are blinded by power and wealth, he considers compassion and human honor as high virtues. In a historic and courageous verdict, he has announced that “the Baha’is of Iran are entitled to civil and human rights.”
In the days to come this verdict and its public proclamation will undoubtedly provoke and fuel the wrath of the apocalyptic regime of Sayyid Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejed against Mr. Montazeri and his circle of supporters, and will loosen waves of attacks and slanders against our Baha’i fellow-citizens. However, what is important is that after 150 years, at long last, someone ranking among the high ecclesiastics and objects of emulation by Shi‘a believers has arisen to defend the human rights and the citizenship of the Baha’is of this country.
With this wise and timely verdict, Mr. Montazeri, as an object of emulation of a large segment of the Shi‘a society, has now claimed a special place in the history of human rights activism in Iran. Without doubt this has evoked the admiration of all Iranians and the Baha’i community, placing him in the estimable position of a Muslim divine who is protective of religious minorities.
Prior to this, in the dark decade of the 1980s, Mr. Montazeri protected the lives of political prisoners from the devouring clutches of Ladjevardi’s gang (who were protected by Khomeini), thereby saving the lives of thousands of heterodox thinkers in Iran. Had it not been for the efforts exerted by a group of emissaries, led by Mr. Nasiri, his son-in-law, whom he sent to investigate the condition of prisons and torture-cells of the regime, thousands more heterodox thinkers would have savagely perished in dungeons. Indeed, it can be said with absolutely certainty that the scope of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners would have been far greater had Montazeri not intervened.
Mr. Montazeri’s proclamation regarding the “equality of civil rights of Baha’i citizens” not only is a fatal blow to the putrefied body of the beliefs of the present leadership and the Hojjatieh stranglehold over the regime, it is a courageous step that warns those who falsely claim to be promoters of reform that indeed in this day and age, when the people of Iran are deprived of even the smallest elements of human rights, reform does not only mean pleading and bartering to send a few more representatives to the phony Islamic parliament. True reform means insistence on human and natural rights of all individuals – the same rights that the Islamic Republic has denied to all individuals and strata of society in Iran, and has trampled under all circumstances.
When, as one of the highest ranking clerics, Mr. Montazeri officially recognizes the rights of the Baha’is of Iran, from that moment on no excuse or justification remains for the claimant to the mantle of reform to continue disregarding equal rights for all religious minorities in Iran, unless they officially announce they are in fact one of the followers and supporters of Sayyid Ali Khamenei or one of the power-seeking mullahs.
As the author of this short essay, and indeed as an Iranian citizen and a defender of universal human rights, who considers his own rescue from the death chambers of Evin prison to be a result of Mr. Montazeri’s efforts to save political activists, and also as someone who under the dictatorial regime of the Shah was a close friend with his assassinated son, Muhammad Montazeri, I greatly admire Montazeri’s courageous efforts towards recognizing the civil rights of our Baha’i countrymen. And I wish him a long and happy life.