Influential clerics have begun to comment on the role of the Supreme Leader and its limitations. Anonymous clerics have reportedly gone even further, calling the Supreme Leader a dictator and calling for his removal — a stern warning to the regime that despite show trials, forced confessions, and continued street violence, support for protesters has strengthened among grand ayatollahs and other influential Shia clerics.
Bendix Anderson at Tehran Bureau:
Grand Ayatollahs in Support of Protesters (in order by most recent statement)
Though an exact list is hard to come by, experts agree that there are only a few dozen Grand Ayatollahs now living. Of those, only about two thirds live in Iran. Shia clerics earn the title of Grand Ayatollah through years of study, publishing papers and books on theological subjects, and gathering thousands or even hundreds of thousands of followers. Literally translated, grand ayatollah, or marja taqlid, means “source of emulation.”
Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri gave the regime a choice in an August 26 letter posted on his Facebook page: reinstate the rights of the people, compensate for damages, release innocent prisoners, and end show trials, or simply announce that Iran is neither a Republic nor an Islamic government. On August 18 he republished an opinion written six years ago against the use of forced confessions. In an August 4 letter he said: “With great surprise and deep sorrow, our dear and agonized nation these days is witnessing the broadcasting of the immoral, unethical and illegal forced confessions of their imprisoned loved ones,” according to his own translation. In a July 29 letter he asked whether the regime had failed to the learn to lessons of the failures of “the Shah and other despotic regimes.” He met with Grand Ayatollah Mousavi Ardabili and Grand Ayatollah Zanjani July 27 to discuss current events. He protested the attacks on Mahdi Karroubi and Abdollah Nouri outside of Friday Prayers in a July 21 letter posted on his website. A pro-Ahmadinijad website claimed July 13 that Montazeri suffers “severe memory disorders” and asks who has written statements attributed to the Grand Ayatollah. Montazeri responded by posting a photograph of a statement in his own handwriting on his website. On July 12, Montazeri wrote a fatwa calling the regime “un-Islamic.” He went on to say: “Injustice is the intentional opposition to the teachings of religion, the foundations of reasonableness, and rationality, and the national accords and consensus that have become the laws of the land. The ruler who opposes these is no longer qualified to rule.” He posted a July 8 statement to: “Protest the improper performance of official repression.” He has also called for three days of mourning for the death of Neda Agha-Soltan and other protesters. He has also said that, “No one in their right mind” could believe the election results,” in a statement issued June 16. Montazeri’s support for this June’s protesters is important but hardly surprising. Once the hand-picked successor to former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, Montazeri lost favor after protesting the executions of political prisoners in the late 1980s and spent years under house arrest in the holy city of Qom after criticizing the current Supreme Leader.