MONTAZERIAP:Getty

Robert Worth explains:

Ayatollah Montazeri was widely regarded as the most knowledgeable religious scholar in Iran, and that gave his criticisms special potency, analysts say. His religious credentials also prevented the authorities from silencing or jailing him. Last month, he stunned many in Iran and abroad by apologizing for his role in the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, which he called a mistake. Iran’s leaders celebrate the takeover every year as a foundational event of the Islamic revolution.

Ayatollah Montazeri, who long advocated greater civil liberties and women’s rights in Iran, was angered by the bloody crackdown that followed the June election and issued a series of remarkable broadsides against the authorities. “A political system based on force, oppression, changing people’s votes, killing, closure, arresting and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate,” he wrote.

(Photo: Iranian mourners attend the funeral of Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in the holy city of Qom on December 21, 2009. AFP/Getty.)

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