Published in German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” on December 21 2009
Source (German):

The Iranian dissident Hossein Ali Montazeri has died. The green movement has lost its spiritual leading figure, and one of its most prominent clerical supporters. A tribute.
By Martin Gehlen

Iranian dissident Hossein Ali Montazeri died Saturday night at the age of 87 (© Norbert Schiller/ AFP/ Gettty Images)

His last letter to the green opposition has become his legacy. “Do not let yourself be tempted to respond with violence, if those in power proceed with force and repression”, the 87 year old Grand Ayatollah in early December had warned young supporters of the green movement who had turned to him with four questions. “Do not expect that victory will be soon and easy”. The green movement should be careful now to not get impatient and hectic. In times of resistance, when it comes to reviving the rights of the people, it is of major importance to endure hardships – according to the teachings of the Quran. “Intimidation, threats, arrests, illegal show trials, severe an completely unjustified punishments for people who call for more freedom, as well as false and misleading state propaganda: all this has not been able to break the will and the determination of the people”, he wrote.

In the night from Saturday to Sunday, Hossein Ali Montazeri passed away at the age of 87. With him, the green opposition has lost its spiritual leading figure, and a key supporter from the upper echelons of the Iranian clergy. On Monday, Montazeri, who was one of the most respected Shiite theologians in the world, will be laid to rest in Qom. Foreign journalists, again, are not allowed to report about the event. For his funeral could turn into one of the largest political demonstrations against the Tehran regime in the Islamic Republic since the disputed presidential elections in June.

Born in 1922 into a peasant family in the village of Najafabad, Montazeri since the 1960es was one of the closest companions of Ayatollah Khomeini. He studied theology in Isfahan and subsequently became a lecturer in Islamic science and philosophy in Qom, which today is the center of Shiite learning in Iran. At the time of the Shah, Montazeri spent four years in prison, where he was repeatedly tortured. After the triumphant return of Khomeini from Paris to Tehran in early 1979, the gifted theologian, who used to receive all visitors with innocent friendliness, immediately became part of the ruling elite of the new regime. He became an Ayatollah in Tehran and called for the export of the revolution to other countries. In 1985, the founder of the Islamic Republic designated him to be his successor. Three years later, however, Montazeri fell from grace.

“In the name of God, the benevolent and merciful”, as the conventional formula says, he had protested against the mass executions in Iranian prisons. He argued that the executions had often killed innocent people and were not to any benefit, instead they provoked media propaganda against Iran.
In the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of the Shah in February 1989, he even took a rather negative stock of the Iranian revolution, warning the government not to monopolize power, and called for more justice and a better protection of civil rights. That was it. Khomeini, who was already critically ill with cancer, stripped him of his trust. After Khomeini’s death in June 1989, Montazeri’s arch enemey Ali Khamenei advanced to the head of the state, a pale and hitherto little-known cleric with mediocre theological qualifications.

In 1997, after Montazeri publicly criticized that Khamenei had no adequate qualification for the position of the head of state, and too often meddled in politics, thugs devastated his office. He escaped unhurt, but was placed under house arrest in Qom, and completely isolated. It was not until 2003 that the anathema was lifted. And again, the Grand Ayatollah took on the powerful. Multiple times within the last few months, he accused Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of establishing a dictatorship in the name of Islam. “The country belongs to the people, not to any one person”, the respected cleric shortly after the disputed presidential election wrote in a legal opinion that made the headlines world wide. And again, he bluntly challenged the Supreme Religious Leader Ali Khamenei, saying: The Shah “heard the call of the people’s revolution only when it was already too late. One can only hope that the current officials will not to let things get that far”. Because a leadership that is based on “batons, injustice, and violations, that has taken possession of the votes and manipulates them – such a leadership has no value.”

Published in “Handelsblatt” on December 21 2009
Source (German):;2502829;0

Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri was a major authority for the population. Source: ap

Iran continues to cause trouble in the Near East: Within, the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri is playing into the hands of the regime. Abroad, there is an ongoing conflict with Iraq over an oil well in the border area. On the other hand, there are also signs of a possible economic recovery.

BERLIN. The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has deprived Iran’s embattled opposition of its major moral supporter. Montazeri (87) died in the holy city of Qom on Sunday. He was a major antagonist of revolutionary and religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneni and his favorite, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June, which was highly controversial due to allegations of massive fraud, Montazeri had backed the opposition and slammed the brutal actions of the government and the state security forces.

Montazeri’s death could strengthen the position of the regime. However, the government in Tehran triggered yet another conflict by seizing a disputed oil well in the border area with Iraq. Although Iran this weekend partially withdrew from the oil production site Al Fakka, Tehran maintains its claims towards the oil field.

The death of Montazeri, who will be laid to rest today in Qom, has been largely ignored by Iran’s state media. Nevertheless,
hundreds of followers of the Grand Ayatollah, who is revered as a Marjah Taghlid, or Source of Wisdom, gathered in front of Montazeri’s house in Qom and at the Tehran University. Montazeri, a close companion of the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, was the sharpest critic of the now most powerful man in the Islamic Republic: Khamenei. Therefore, he had been held under house arrest in Qom for years.

The seething conflict around the oil well continues
After the brutal crack down on the mass protests against the electoral fraud, Montazeri doubted the legitimacy of the ballot, denouncing the “death of innocent people” and “illegal show trials”. He said that since then, Iran has neither been Islamic, nor a Republic, Khamenei was no longer legitimate, and no longer followed the path of God, but the path of Satan.

Moreover, by calling nuclear bombs “un-islamic”, he attacked the most controversial project of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad head on. However, Iran’s leadership presents itself increasingly unimpressed, intensifying the political pressure within the country: On Saturday night, the government for the first time even publicly admitted that at least three of the detainees who were arrested during the protests against Ahmadinejad and subjected to torture in detention, had been tortured to death.

In the conflict over the oil well in the border area, Iran and Iraq agreed to keep foreigners out of it, according to Tehran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. 155,000 soldiers of the US Army are still stationed in Iraq.

According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, Iran’s First Deputy Prime Minister Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said he wanted to establish a “joint protection of the borders with our neighbors”. In 1980, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with the support of the West had attacked Iran. In the eight years of the following war, hundreds of thousands died. Yesterday, Tehran and Baghdad each reiterated that the oil well in question was theirs. Both neighbors are now facing a new conflict.

As far as the economy is concerned, signs of relaxation emerge in Iran in spite of of ever new threats of sanctions against the regime: While the USA announces plans to impose new sanctions against companies supplying gasoline or diesel fuel to Iran, the Chinese oli giant Sinopec in a Memorandum of Understanding has announced an agreement with the Iranian oil authority to build oil refineries in Iran. Sinopec, which had participated in an Iranian oil field as early as 2007, is one of the most large-scale buyers of Iranian crude oil and now wants to invest 6.5 billion U.S. dollars in the construction of refineries there.

Although Iran is the second largest oil producer among the oil exporting countries (Opec), it is forced, due to a lack of sufficient processing capacities, to import large amounts of fuel. The Sinopec deal is precarious, since China is a veto power in the UN Security Council and would have to endorse the planned sanctions on petrol. Even Malaysia, which with Petronas owns one of the major oil companies in Asia, agreed on expanded cooperation with Iran yesterday.

Published in “Deutschlandradio” on December 21 2009
Source (German):

With a delay of more than two weeks, Parastou Forouhar has now been permitted leave Iran and return to Germany. According to “Financial Times Deutschland”, the authorities returned her passport to the German-Iranian artist and resident of the German city of Offenbach. Ms Forouhar had travelled to Tehran in order to attend a commemoration ceremony for her parents. On 5th December, on her way to go back to Germany, the regime confiscated her documents. After a lenghty harrassment-like conversation, she has now been returned her documents, she said. Parastou Forouhar is pursuing the solving of the killing of her parents.
In her artistic work, she reflects the political situation in Iran. Her works, among them sketches and animations, were displayed at the Berlin Biennale and in the New York Brooklyn Museum of Modern Art.