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Topic: Hossein Bourojerdi

Iran’s Imprisoned Ayatollah Suffers Heart Attack

In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

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In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

Only after Bourojerdi coped with extreme pain and shortness of breath for a full day did the Evin guards finally escort him from his cell for what passes for medical attention, by which point the ayatollah had undergone a heart attack. “Not only was he not given any medication while at the infirmary,” noted the latest bulletin on Bourojerdi’s plight, “the prison authorities continued to refuse his family’s delivery of medication that he had been prescribed before.”

A few days before his heart attack, Bourojerdi sent a thunderous appeal to the United Nations General Assembly urging the international body to once and for all confront the issue of human-rights abuse by the Iranian regime:

I sit here, at the start of my eighth year of captivity; jailed by a religious dictatorship and charged with defending the freedom of thought, speech and expression and refusing to align with tyrants who forcibly lord over Iran… Has the time not come for your assembly to demand that these brutal totalitarians respond to how they dare to speak of Bahrain, Syria and Palestine, under the guise of sympathy, when they have plundered and stolen the wealth and national income of every Iranian, rendering them impoverished and putting them in the ultimate financial and economic crisis?

That time, of course, has not come. Bourojerdi’s missive passed unnoticed amidst all the cooing over the charm offensive launched by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new and–as we are endlessly informed–“moderate” president. While President Obama did, in his phone call with Rouhani, raise the continuing imprisonment of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor with American citizenship who has also been detained in Evin for the last year, the suffering of a Muslim cleric who has tirelessly advocated for the separation of mosque and state was deemed unworthy of even a mention.

But Bourojerdi’s case may yet receive the attention it warrants from an unexpected source. Ahmad Shaheed, the former foreign minister of the Maldives who presently serves as the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” has won plaudits from Iranian democracy activists for his forthright reports on the mullah’s human-rights abuses. Shaheed is certainly aware of Bourojerdi’s situation, having received a letter from supporters and family members of the ayatollah in 2011, in which they asserted that an “illegal ban” on prison visits was designed to compel Bourojerdi to confess to fabricated crimes.

In his most recent report, Shaheed carefully traced the regime’s repression of religious minorities, citing the predicament of Christians and Bahais who are especially vulnerable to legal charges of heresy and apostasy. Significantly, Shaheed concluded that:

There has been an apparent increase in the degree of seriousness of human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran…alarming reports of retributive State action against individuals suspected of communicating with UN Special Procedures raises serious concern about the Government’s resolve to promote respect for human rights in the country (my emphasis.)

In other words, as well as refusing cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors, the regime is also criminalizing those who talk to the international body’s human-rights investigators. So far, Rouhani has given no indication that he will curb this intimidation. Indeed, his appointment of a hardliner with strong ties to Iran’s security apparatus, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, as the country’s minister of justice, does not bode well for Ayatollah Boroujerdi or any of the other activists that have run afoul of the Tehran regime.

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The Plight of Ayatollah Bourojerdi

With the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, the international debate about reaching out to the “moderates” inside the Iranian regime has been reignited. But before we get overly excited at the prospect of a kinder, gentler breed of mullah, it’s worth revisiting one of the most heinous examples of human rights abuse in Iran, a case that involves a man who carries the honorific Shi’a Muslim title of “ayatollah.”

Over the last fortnight, the various Iranian emigre networks have lit up with renewed calls for the release of Ayatollah Hossein Bourojerdi. Bourojerdi, who has languished in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since 2006, preaches an Islamic doctrine that is utterly at odds with regime’s outlook, in that he advocates the separation of mosque and state, and urges religious tolerance.

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With the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, the international debate about reaching out to the “moderates” inside the Iranian regime has been reignited. But before we get overly excited at the prospect of a kinder, gentler breed of mullah, it’s worth revisiting one of the most heinous examples of human rights abuse in Iran, a case that involves a man who carries the honorific Shi’a Muslim title of “ayatollah.”

Over the last fortnight, the various Iranian emigre networks have lit up with renewed calls for the release of Ayatollah Hossein Bourojerdi. Bourojerdi, who has languished in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since 2006, preaches an Islamic doctrine that is utterly at odds with regime’s outlook, in that he advocates the separation of mosque and state, and urges religious tolerance.

Boroujerdi is reported to be in grave physical condition. Among other ailments, he suffers from heart disease, and his supporters say that he is being denied medication. Even more disturbingly, Bourojerdi is reported to have undergone a new round of physical and psychological torture, as regime interrogators try and force him to sign a letter of repentance. According to this account, Bourojerdi is said to have spoken with his family by telephone after one such encounter, telling them “that he does not regret any of his actions and stands by his word, as he is prepared to die.”

Throughout his seven years in prison, Bourojerdi has become adept at smuggling messages to the outside world. The latest bout of regime fury was apparently provoked by his call, issued at the end of May, for Iranians to boycott the elections of June 14, which resulted in a Rouhani victory. A more recent message, issued to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, won’t exactly mollify the Ayatollah’s enemies; in it, Bourojerdi speaks of “the regime of cruelty and political religionism,” and describes “thirty four years of Ramadans” in which Iran’s rulers have “abused the spiritual convictions of society.”

Such forthright declarations have always been Bourojerdi’s style, which explains why the mullahs ran out of patience with him in 2006. In October of that year, Iranian police descended on Bourojerdi’s house in south Tehran to find that several hundred of the Ayatollah’s followers had formed a human shield around it. After a series of bitter clashes, Bourojerdi was finally pried out of his house and placed in custody. The regime then charged him with claiming to be a descendant of the Mah’di, a revered figure in Shi’a Islam who first appeared in the ninth century, and whose “return” is prayed for among followers of the dominant “Imami” branch of the religion. Bourojerdi has always denied making such a claim, countering that his only crime is to oppose Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions. Prior to his imprisonment, Bourojerdi encapsulated the essence of his faith by stating, “Only he (the Mah’di) has the legitimate competence to rule and pass judgment.”

Throughout his incarceration, reports of Bourojerdi’s declining health have frequently surfaced. In 2007, he was reported to have lost the vision in one of his eyes, and subsequent health bulletins have mentioned diabetes, kidney stones and malnutrition. Relatives and supporters have highlighted his ill health in letters to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other leading international figures, but Bourojerdi’s plight, outside of the Iranian diaspora circles that have diligently kept his name alive, remains a sadly obscure concern.

According to Bourojerdi’s supporters, the ayatollah received a visit last week from state prosecutor Jafar Ghadiani, who told him, “We can kill you anytime we want and no one will be the wiser.” While it’s not possible to verify this actual quote, its substance certainly comports with the treatment that Bourojerdi has received at the hands of the ruling ayatollahs. Will President Rouhani boost his “moderate and pragmatic” credentials by releasing him–or at least appealing to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to do so? Or is Bourojerdi fated to die in prison?

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