(CNN) The moral conscience of Iran’s reform movement passed away Sunday morning. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who died at 87, was the Iranian equivalent of South Africa’s Desmond Tutu for politics. Over the past 20 years, he distinguished himself by virtue of his persistent, judicious criticism of human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic and his defense of the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran within the framework of an ethical interpretation of Shia Islam.
On many of Iran’s most sensitive and politically charged debates, Montazeri intervened in an unprecedented manner that marked a clear contrast with the ruling ideology of Iranian regime. On the question of Iran’s persecuted Baha’i minority, he called for the granting of full citizenship rights and rejected longstanding views on the punishment for apostasy in Islam.