Iran clamps down on clergy

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The Independent Online
A SENIOR Iranian clergyman has been executed and dozens of others arrested or barred from office in a campaign to bring the country's powerful seminaries under government control.

The Tehran opposition paper Salam has reported that Salman Ahmadi, head of the Vice Bureau in the south-eastern province of Khuzestan, was executed after being found guilty of immoral acts by a special clerical court. The authorities have made no mention of this case, but have admitted that 'a group of so-called religious elements' has been arrested, and will soon be put on trial.

Opposition spokesmen believe this new purge is a drive by President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's spiritual leader, to break the influence of the hawzas (seminaries) in the run-up to the presidential election on 11 June. It was through the hawzas that Ayatollah Khomeini preached the Islamic revolution, and these seminaries have remained independent of government control.

Ayatollah Montazeri, heir-apparent to Khomeini before being deposed, has published a letter condemning the campaign against the hawzas. 'The way things are going,' he wrote, 'they will soon end up as centres of government propaganda with no influence of their own.'

The leading Shia mullah, Muhammad Reza Golpayegani, ordered Ayatollah Khamenei to stop interfering with the hawzas. The ayatollah replied that the hawzas were 'resisting the realities of modern politics and how the present should be reconciled with Islamic teaching'.

Though five candidates have been nominated to take part in next month's presidential election, few Iranians doubt that Mr Rafsanjani will win.

On Monday a veteran politician reiterated his call for Iranians to oppose the presidential election 'farce' and to put an end to the present 'authoritarian mullahcracy'. Dariush Foruhar, 72, leader of the Iranian National Party, described the next presidential elections as a 'stage-managed exercise by the present rulers to maintain themselves on their despotic power'.

Meanwhile, the Council of the Guardians, which must clear all the candidates' 'eligibility', denied on Sunday that it had already chosen five candidates, including the outgoing president.