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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 16:16 GMT
Iran press demands ayatollah's release
Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader
Montazeri's fate is ultimately in the hands of one man

A prominent conservative newspaper in Iran has urged the authorities to release from house arrest the country's most senior dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hussain-Ali Montazeri.

Ayatollah Montazeri
Ayatollah Hussain-Ali Montazeri (Iranian TV)
Under house arrest in Qom since 1997 and now over 80 years old
Conservatives refuse to recognise his religious authority
Has called for better ties with America
The Resalat daily said the ayatollah was in poor health and the continuation of his confinement could cause problems for Iran.

It is the first time that conservatives have called for an end to Ayatollah Montazeri's house arrest.

Ayatollah Montazeri, who is in his 80s, was placed under house arrest in 1997 after he criticised the authority of the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

He is the most prominent dissident cleric in Iran and for a time was heir-designate to the leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Conservative refusal

In the past five years, Iran's reformist camp, which is close to President Mohammad Khatami, has repeatedly called for the release of Mr Montazeri.

Last week, more than 100 members of parliament urged the authorities to lift the restrictions on him.

And a senior reformist cleric, Ayatollah Taheri, also called on Iran's top religious leaders to intervene in Mr Montazeri's case.

But the conservatives have so far refused to change his status.

The appeal by the Resalat is a new development and it comes amid reports that Ayatollah Montazeri is in a weak physical state.

In an editorial, the paper argues that house arrest has not deterred the ayatollah from making his views known through statements distributed by his family.

It also said Ayatollah Montazeri's supporters should be prevented from making political capital from his poor health and the continuation of his confinement.

But despite the call, it is believed that the final decision on the case of Ayatollah Montazeri will be taken by the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

See also:

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