Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi has been imprisoned in his native land since 2006. In a statement on November 7, he announced a hunger strike from his cell in Tehran’s Evin House of Detention, notorious for the political and spiritual dissidents held and abused there.
Boroujerdi’s meditations appeared on the occasion of Ashura, which recalls the murder in the 7th century of Imam Hussein, grandson of Muhammad and an opponent of the reigning Islamic caliphate, at the Battle of Karbala in Iraq. Ashura and the remembrance of Karbala--a time for mourning rather than a holiday--are especially prominent in Shia Islam.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi took the occasion this year to describe the Iranian state as “worse and more evil than Daesh [the Arabic name for the Islamic State] and the Taliban.” He warned that the Khomeinist doctrine of “guardianship by the jurisprudent” or velayet-e faqih, i.e. clerical command in politics, had handed over Iran’s wealth to “authoritarian Pharaonic rulers” in Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and among the Palestinians. The incarcerated ayatollah compared the atrocities of the caliphate in killing Imam Hussein and his followers at Karbala more than 1,330 years ago with Khomeinism, and pledged “aggressive” opposition to the dominant Iranian ideology.
The captive cleric equated the traditional Shiite narration of the tragedy of Karbala forcefully with “enumeration of the crimes of political Islam . . . inflicted on the freedom-loving people.” In addition, he described the methods of Tehran as “demoniac and brutal.” In committing himself to a hunger strike, he called for “liberation of my compatriots from the harassment of God-mongering clergy.”
In a commentary dated November 6, Boroujerdi indicted the heads of the Iranian dictatorship on the application of death penalties for religious interpretations contrary to state dogma. When he was arrested in 2006, he was sentenced to execution, but the judgment was reduced to 11 years imprisonment. In his inquiry regarding capital punishment for intellectual differences, he wrote, “Under the auspices of a tyrannical regime, one cannot expect anything but distress, sorrow and grief—was the oppressed Iranian nation granted anything else other than this during the past thirty-five years?”
He continued, “In the name of Islam [the official Iranian clerics] interfere in the affairs of all countries. . . . They speak about the Palestinian children, while Iranians of all ages draw their last breath because of the pressures they experience; the ruling regime, which claims to be Islamic, allows itself under such a label to send troops to any region it wishes, and to spend the limitless and extensive wealth of the looted people on the digging of trenches, and exporting the revolution. . . . I ask all the intellectuals in the world if it is a crime to interpret a religion in a way which is different from the interpretation offered by political Islam. . . . Is there repression in any part of the world similar to what can be seen in our land? The headstrong and complacent judge tells me, ‘either you adopt the religion of the Islamic revolution, or you will be killed.’ ”
Ayatollah Boroujerdi has long been known for his sharp challenges to the Iranian overlords and advocacy for separation of religion from the state. His principles accord with the precedents of Shia Islam, whose clerics refrained from involvement in politics before the Khomeini revolution of 1979.