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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 17:45 GMT
Iran cleric 'still under house arrest'
Ayatollah Hussain-Ali Montazeri
Ayatollah Montazeri says he is in good health

Iran's most senior dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hussain-Ali Montazeri, has said he is still under house arrest despite reports that he was to be released on Tuesday.

In his first interview with a foreign radio station, Ayatollah Montazeri told the BBC he had never asked the authorities to lift his house arrest and would reject any conditions imposed on him.

He also criticised the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, for not fulfilling his promises of reform.

Ayatollah Hussain-Ali Montazeri (Iranian TV)
If the authorities want to lift the restrictions it's up to them. Otherwise I'm a patient man

Ayatollah Montazeri

Ayatollah Montazeri - who was for a time heir-designate to the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini - was placed under house arrest in 1997 after he criticised the authority of the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

After five years of house arrest, Ayatollah Montazeri is as defiant as ever.

He told the BBC Persian Service that he regretted nothing he had said in the past.

Despite his old age and long confinement, the ayatollah sounded sharp and alert.

'No deals'

He said he and his family had never asked the authorities to lift restrictions imposed on him.

"It is absolutely a lie that my children have appealed for clemency on my behalf," he said.

"My children would never ask for clemency. If the authorities want to lift the restrictions it's up to them. Otherwise I'm a patient man."

Ayatollah Montazeri - who is one of the founders of the Islamic Republic - angrily denied rumours in the conservative media that he had agreed to refrain from political activities if the authorities released him.

President Mohammad Khatami
President Khatami should change his style, Ayatollah Montazeri says

He urged the Iranian president to change his style and be firmer in pursuing reforms.

"When Mr Khatami first came to power, the people were very hopeful," he said.

"But if he continues like this, people will be very disappointed. He should review his manner. He should fulfil his promises to reform Iranian society."

Ayatollah Montazeri sharply attacked the Guardians Council - a conservative body which vets all candidates for elections.

He said the people should be free to choose their elected representatives without any interference.

There have been reports in recent weeks that the ayatollah, who is in his 80s, was suffering from poor health and depression.

But he said he was generally well and his only problem was excessive sleeping.

The long years of house arrest, the ayatollah pointed out, had not stopped him from continuing his studies.



See also:

27 Jan 03 | Middle East
21 Jan 03 | Middle East
12 Jan 03 | Middle East
10 Dec 02 | Middle East
01 Jun 02 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
28 Dec 02 | Country profiles
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