Iran backlash after top cleric meets reformists

Yazdi is one of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) appointees to the Guardian Council. (AFP)
Updated 28 October 2018
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Iran backlash after top cleric meets reformists

TEHRAN: A hard-line member of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council was facing a backlash on Sunday after criticizing one of the country’s top religious figures for meeting with reformist politicians.
The dispute reflects the diversity of views within Iran’s religious elite and the fact that, well after the 1979 Islamic revolution, some senior Shiite clerics fiercely defend their independence.
The controversy started a fortnight ago when 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Musa Shobairi Zanjani — considered one of the highest religious authorities and a “marja” (or “source of emulation“) for huge numbers of Shiite Muslims — met with ex-president Mohammad Khatami and other members of the reformist camp.
Khatami was president from 1997 to 2005 but has since fallen foul of the system, especially after supporting mass protests in 2009, and is banned from leaving the country or appearing in official media.
That meeting drew a shocked response from another leading ayatollah, Mohammad Yazdi, who leads an influential conservative clerical association in Qom, regarded as Iran’s religious capital.
Yazdi is one of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s appointees to the Guardian Council, a supervisory body that has a veto over all parliamentary laws.
“Following the publication of pictures on social media of you alongside some problematic individuals who have no respect for the system of the Islamic republic and the supreme leader, I hereby state that this issue has caused concern and upset among followers and in the seminaries,” Yazdi wrote in an open letter published by the Jamaran news site.
“I would like to remind you that your status and respect are tied to your respect for the ruling Islamic system, the leadership and the status of marjas... and take steps to ensure such matters are not repeated again,” he added.
To criticize a grand ayatollah in this way was considered beyond the pale for many observers.
Abbas Salehi, minister of Islamic culture and guidance, tweeted late Saturday: “We must be careful not to weaken the pure marjas under the banner of preserving the system, and not spoil Shiite historical heritage.”
At least one ayatollah resigned from Yazdi’s religious association in protest, while another, Ayatollah Hadavi Tehrani, said the “impolite” letter to Zanjani had caused “sadness and sorrow.”
Responses continued to come from many senior officials and commentators on Sunday.
“We Shiites are proud that our noble marjas have never gotten permission from any power but glorious God and have not been bound by the constraints of any political and economic bodies,” tweeted Elisa Hazrati, a member of parliament and managing director of the reformist Etemad newspaper.


Another Turkish journalist jailed over Gulen links

Ali Unal was chief writer at the now-defunct Zaman newspaper. (Supplied)
Updated 15 November 2018
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Another Turkish journalist jailed over Gulen links

  • About 250 people were killed in the coup attempt and in the subsequent crackdown, Turkey jailed 77,000 people pending trial

ISTANBUL: A court sentenced Turkish journalist Ali Unal to 19 years in jail on Wednesday on a charge of being a leader in the network accused of carrying out a failed coup in July 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
The ruling followed a sustained crackdown in the wake of the coup attempt, but also came amid steps by the government that appear aimed at improving ties with the US and Europe, strained by the sweeping campaign of arrests.
Unal was chief writer at the now-defunct Zaman newspaper, widely seen as the flagship media outlet for the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says orchestrated the attempted putsch. Gulen denies any involvement.
Speaking by video link from jail to the court in the western province of Usak, Unal denied being a founder or leader of the network and denied involvement in the putsch, Anadolu said.
“I have no link with any terrorist organization,” he said, adding that he had spoken five or six times to Gulen and that he was being tried over his writing.
He was sentenced to 19 years and six months for “leading an armed terrorist group.” Six other Zaman journalists were convicted on similar charges in July.
About 250 people were killed in the coup attempt and in the subsequent crackdown, Turkey jailed 77,000 people pending trial. Authorities also sacked or suspended 150,000 civil servants and military personnel and shut down dozens of media outlets.Illustrating the scale of its actions, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday his ministry had dismissed 23 percent of its career personnel over links to Gulen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said some journalists helped nurture terrorists with their writing, and that the crackdown is needed to ensure stability in a NATO member bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. Critics say Erdogan has used the crackdown to muzzle dissent and increase his own power. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has also criticized the crackdown. The verdict came a day after another court threw out the conviction of former Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak, annulling a verdict sentencing her to two years in prison in absentia on charges of carrying out propaganda for Kurdish militants.