TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's most senior dissident cleric on Wednesday criticized the ruling system under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a dictatorship in the name of Islam, the most serious attack on the country's top official since the disputed presidential election.
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said the ruling system showed its true nature with the violent crackdown against the hundreds of thousands who protested President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election and the torture of detainees that led to at least three deaths.
"The biggest oppression … is despotic treatment of the people in the name of Islam," Montazeri, 87, said in a written response to some 300 activists that was posted on his Web site. "I hope the responsible authorities give up the deviant path they are pursuing and restore the trampled rights of the people."
Montazeri's opinion carries weight because he was once tapped to succeed the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran's supreme leader. He was denied the post in the late 1980s because of his criticism of the excesses of the ruling system and his differences with Khomeini.
Montazeri spent five years under house arrest after saying in 1997 that Khamenei wasn't qualified to rule. The punishment has not silenced Montazeri, who has repeatedly said that the freedom that was promised after the Islamic revolution never materialized.