Iranian Muslim Champion of Separation of Religion and State

Incarcerated in Evin Prison (Location of U.S./Iranian Pastor Saeed Abedini)

Like Father Like Son

The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.
--Omar Khayyam

On that second day of August in 1958, Ayatollah Seyed (or Sayyid) Mohammad Ali Kazemeini Boroujerdi, must have been very happy to have a son, Hossein Kazemeyni, (or Hosein Kazemaini) arrive in Qom, Iran. (Or as the Persian calendar has it: Mordad 10th 1337) His family had long been prominent in the Shiite religious community. 

Fate in a very mortally dangerous way would eventually catch up to not only to the father, but also his son, because of his tolerant version of Twelver Shi'a Islam.  He was one of those Islamic voices in Iran that preached for separation of the government from their religion.  He paid for it with his life as he was allegedly poisoned in the hospital and died there in August 2002 -- not long after he should have been celebrating his son's birthday. He would also in turn lose his brother to the murderous regime that hijacked their revolution.

We shall learn how this death was an unpleasant turning point for the son in more than just mourning his father's passing, We shall also learn how imprisonment and poisoning allows the Iranian Republic to push their fundamentalist Islamic ruling agenda without appearing to actually execute its enemies. Thus Ayatollah Bourourdi's calling the country's government an illegal tyranny instead of its official name further infuriated the Supreme Jurists (Velayat- e-Faghih)}.

Another Grand Ayatollah, Sayyid Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, who was a voice against occupying the U.S. Embassy after the Khomeini overthrow of the Shah in 1979, found himself under house arrest until 1986 when he died. This ultimate destiny was later referenced towards Ayatolla Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi as a threat.

Earlier Education

Living Life Tomorrow's fate,
though thou be wise,
Thou canst not tell nor yet surmise;
Pass, therefore, not today in vain,
For it will never come again.
--Omar Khayyam

After initial religious training in Boroujerdi (their ancestral homeland), he studied and became a clergman (Rohaniyate) under Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Abul Ma'ali Shahab ad-Din Muhammad Hussain Mar'ashi Najafi. This Iraqi-born teacher was instrumental in saving rare and precious Islamic manuscripts from various global regions, who ironically died before the library in his name was finished with the Ayatollah Khomeini's blessing. Najafi also lauded Hossein's kind and intelligent approach to his sincere Islamic devotions. Eventually Hossein would earn the honor of being an Ayatollah (literally "Sign of Allah {or God}").

The Times are a Changin'

Close your Koran.
Think in freedom and look with open mind
at Heaven and Earth.
Forgive everyone his sins.
Don't cause anyone grief.
--Omar Khayyam

The Rule of Supreme Jurisprudent (Velayat- e-Faghih) would increasingly become the sharp thorn in his side. Even though he, like many in the country before 1979, under the increasing paranoid government of the U.S. backed Pahlavi Shahs, wanted an end to the torture-happy secret police, SAVAK, (Sāzemān-e Ettelā'āt va Amniyat-e Keshvar). This security branch, now replaced by VEVAK (Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar), was aided in 1957 by the CIA. This caused a coalition of the revolutionaries to want to rid themselves of even more other Western influences.

Now, because of the tremendous popularity of the returned-from-exiled in France for 15 years, the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the more progressive voices were hard pressed to have much influence. Ironically under the Shah's "White Revolution," (Enghelāb-e Sefid), a vast national social and economic modernizing reform movement that was given overwhelming support in a 1963 referendum, eventually did strengthen the upper and middle classes. However their freedoms were also stifled, while many social and economic ills remained, while additional dissenting religious groups were persecuted, thus all became valid grievances that lead up to the revolution.

So from the protests that started in 1977 until the Shah left in 1979, there was no going back. They scrapped the previous constitution of 1906, (which came after a progressive revolution) and after an tremendous plurality in a referendum asking for an Islamic Republic, they formed it, with a theocratic-republican constitution with a Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini. Any leftists like the Tudeh Party, the Fedaian guerrillas, moderates, or dissenting religious sects would be target for either the new Republican Guard, or the Basij, Sâzmân-e Basij-e Mostaz'afin, which replaced the disbanded predecessor, or worse, face the wrath by arson or murder by the street thugs, Ansar-e Hizbollah. They are considered parallel shadows to the intelligence groups, the Pasdaran or Hefazat-e Etelaat-e Sepah and the Hefazat-e Etelaat-e Ghovey-e Ghazai-e of the judicial authority.


'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
--Omar Khayyam

In the 1990's there began some hope for liberality for the students and others wanting to insure restoration of freedoms, in fact in October 15, 1994, 134 "We the Writers" wrote an open letter that spoke their desires. Here are some pertinent parts excerpted:

We hereby emphasize that our principal goal is the removal of all obstacles on the road to freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of publication; we emphasize that any other interpretations of our aim would be incorrect and stress that the responsibility for these misinterpretations lies with those who have wrongly identified our goals.

There is no doubt that the right to analyze and evaluate all works of literature and scholarship is one that all should enjoy; the critical analysis of works by writers is the prerequisite for the promotion of national culture. Spying into the private life of a writer as justification for the criticism of his/her works is tantamount to intrusion into his/her privacy; condemning a writer on the basis of their moral and ideological convictions is contrary to the principles of democracy and the ethics of writing. Defending the human and civil rights of every writer is, under all circumstances, the professional duty of all writers.

To sum:

Our collective presence is the guarantee of our individual independence; the private thought and action of one writer has nothing to do with the assembly of writers: this is what we mean by the democratic outlook of an independent, professional organization. Although it may seem a tautology, we reiterate: We are writers; look upon us as writers; consider our collectively as the professional presence of Iranian writers.

The results were immediate, in the daily Kayhan, Hassan Khorasani lashed out at these intellectuals as "the excrement of the monarchical period who have always been the source of moral and intellectual corruption, and whose circles are not different from a fly's nest." (I guess the Shiite hit the fan!) Also a bit later a multitude of the signers strangely dropped off the face of the planet.

But, Hope sprang up again, but not eternal, in that May of 1997 when Mohammad Khatami won the presidential election by 70% over the old school establishment: but hard-liners had nothing to fear with their Council of Guardians blocking any real attempt at legislation. And throughout all these regimes, opponents were not only imprisoned and killed locally, but exiled Iranians, especially critics, were killed by agents in Europe and other parts of the world. The Intelligence Services of the Revolutionary Guard (Hefazat-e Etelaat-e Sepah Pasdaran) are always a force to contend with at home and abroad.

His opinions contrary to the status quo got the attention of the Special Court for Clergy, which tries Shi'a ministers' transgressions, and is accountable only to the Ayatollah himself. Officers of Information Ministry grabbed him right out in public on June 1995 and he was arrested in the Towhid prison which is adjacent to Tehran's main post office. His harsh treatment began his cardiac and kidney problems that have been added to since.

Human Rights activist,  journalist, and previous prisoner, Kaveh Taheri explains the complexities:

For a long time, the political process in Iran is stagnated and controlled by the Islamic party and by the revolutionary guard, the Islamic party of Iran, controls the constitution and the elections in the country for many years, this makes politics in its democratic sense impossible to implement in that environment.

Although the political party who rules Iran now didn’t change much in regards of violations of human rights and pursuing activists and imprisoning them, the people’s mentality has been changed, there is more secularism in the streets of Iran, more people are connected to the virtual world, and the society became more aware of the principles of democracy and the people are actively and openly are pursuing their basic human rights.

Evin Prison Blues

When I want to understand what is happening today
or try to decide what will happen tomorrow, I look back.
--Omar Khayyam

On January 15, 2001 they, by way of the Special Court for Clergy, got Hossein again, who had been also barely recovering from those jail-borne ailments, for brave continuance of his views. He was subjected to interrogations in the infamous secret section 209 and 59 (the Eshraat-abad) part of Evin run by VEVAK, where he had a heart attack.

Interestingly Member of Parliament Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoini was one of several MPs that got wind of the nefarious activities, and surveyed the prisons for themselves, and they managed to get Towhid closed. There had been arrests of a liberal coalition of artists, writers, journalists and others called Melli-Mazhabi. Unfortunately the plains-clothed Basiji and Hizbellah made adjustments to become more efficient in their activities. There were erroneous reports of section 59 being closed.

Therefore this Ayatollah was arrested again in 2002 after enjoying some time with his family after his summer 2001 release because of his preaching against despotism. It was a time when crackdowns on newspapers and dissident clergy had continued in earnest, and 2002 was the year the senior Boruojerdi was arrested (along with the son and others) and ultimately died (poisoned) in the hospital. Many supporters were killed as well. And, to literally add insult to injury, they removed his father's body buried in a mosque and cremated it; Thus 2002 was a year where the son also intensified his attacks on the government.

From Bad to Worse

Ah make the most of what yet we may spend,
Before we too into dust descend
--Omar Khayyam

On August 16th 2004 he was called to the court yet again and then underwent a relatively short detention before being released on a house arrest probation, forbidden to socialize except with family. He was able to communicate with some followers in the next year, but by the beginning 2006 he earned the ire of authorities by assembling a protest crowd of 100,000 at Shahid keshvari stadium without the use of any media. The freaked-out authorities summoned him to the Special court for Clergy, but his answer, knowing of their duplicity and drumming up charges, was, “I will not go to the court, come and kill me”! He also refused to ever flee the country, but like a true patriot stayed the course.

Therefore on January 30, 2006 he suffered an attempted home invasion, breaking locks and trying to bust through the doors, not by criminals, but the government guards, who were thwarted and ran away by local groups of neighbors and supporters. He gave this short speech afterwards:

Today in the morning we were attacked. It is surprising that some people accuse America and Israel of attacking Shiite, but I, who am from the most famous family of Shiite, are being attacked in the capital of Shiite country. I am worried that maybe this behavior causes the nation's anger and starts the public riot.
His friends and comrades guarded his house for him afterwards, and for over two months had visitors from all across the country.

September 5th, 2006 was when he was visited by an official Mullah, Sheikh Ahmadi who argued for an hour with the hesitant Ayatollah Hossein Boroujerdi, who exclaimed:

I have been summoned there several times, and been arrested and tortured to give up my position and opinion and surely this time the reaction of cruel religious authorities would be harsher. There is no reason to go there while I know you want to condemn me for several fake accusations. If you are right, hold a debate between me and some religious authorities who believe in Velayat-e-faqih and political religion, to let the fact be clear for every one.
He was threatened to be "annihilated" just like the aforementioned Ayatollah Shariatmadari, and they added, they would finish him like they did to the freedom fighters, the Mojahedin-e-Khalgh. (This group is in exile and publishes updates of what is really happening in Iran.) Finally on October 7, 2006 various government forces, of disciplinary officers, anti-riot military units and other security guards like the Basiji besieged his house, surrounding it, arresting all those who got in the way screaming through bullhorns, surrender or die! Eventually they started with tear gas and the threatening movement of heavy machinery that escalated in the middle of the night to batons, bullets, and scores of casualties and arrests.

He finally was arrested and waited nine months for a trial. So that summer of 2007, he and 80 of his devotees were held at a closed doors trial, where he and 70 others, without benefit of legal counsel, were sentenced for execution. Part of the 30 indictments are as follows:

    1) Combat against God and national security.
    2) Delivering speeches and provoking public opinions against the government.
    3) Calling Velayat-e-Faghih  illegitimate.
    4) Considering (criticizing) jurisprudents and religious authorities as the deputy of Ministry of Information.
    5) Accusing the revolution's founder and leader of innovating in religion and lying.
    6) Having relationship with famous personalities against revolution.
    7) Accusing high ranking government officials of neglecting people's rights and requests.
    8) Using the term "religious dictatorship" instead of "Islamic Republic" in the interviews with foreign television and radio
    9) Fabricating a new religion named "traditional religion"
   10) Abusing his clergy frock.
   11) Using cold weapons (subtlety) in confronting with judicial officials and disciplinary forces and so forth.

He shouted this tirade at his pseudo trial:

By this revolution's mock religion, you have stained God's name. You have represented Islam as a monster and introduced Rohaniyat (clergymen) as executioners and brigands.

Why should people search for water and dried bread and die of this little legal need while Iran is one of the richest countries in the world!?

The international pressure from important personages like Dr. Alireza Norizadeh and Ms. Roya Araghi, (who fled after her own imprisonment in 2009), helped him get a year and ten years of exile instead. However, they did execute 7, and he was weakened and sickened tremendously in his imprisonment. he was moved from Evin to solitary confinement at Yazd Tehran Central November 23 2008.  He managed to publish a letter at that time:

Long life peace, justice and freedom, up with Human Rights defenders.

In the name of compassionate God and in remembrance of my homeland and Iranian oppressed people.
Before being exiled from the capital's prison to Yazd prison, I am going to announce my thoughts and practical positions for recording in the contemporary history in order not to be any doubt for conscientious countries.

I, as a universal clergyman with a thirty five-year-record of lecturing , leadership and writing , have spent the whole youth and its special days on social, faith, human and divine services; And also, I have gained a great popularity among people which caused a jealousy among the court mullahs.

I followed my father, who was one of the important defenders of the traditional religion and he sacrificed himself for God, people and service to the deprived and he was killed by Islam claimant executioners in the process of religious propaganda. I am the heir of the fathers who had been religious leaders in Iran and Iraq and they believed that the interference of religion in politics is the disturber of faith. They considered the political Islam as a reason that some religious people leave monotheism.

Now there are some aspects of flagrant disputes between political religion and apolitical religion that I am going to represent to the world's judgments.

The religion we are talking about has a slogan that says "يريدالله بكم اليسر"and introduces the religion authority as a close friend that never causes resentment for his people.

The flag of Islam we consider is "لا يريد بكم العسر"and announces that your creator is not cruel and strict.

The religion we are resisting for its strength says " لا يكلف الله نفسا الا ما اتاه" and also it mentions that your God never imposes strict and sharp law on you because he knows that human is tender and sensitive and without resistance "خلق الانسان ضعيفا ".

He mentions in human's language that he never orders like a cruel and ruthless governor " لا طاقه لنا ".
The religion, which I taught people, has a slogan that says " لا اكراه في الدين " and its lesson is preventing from religious dictatorship.
My primary spiritual lessons, which I teach, are about "يسئلونك ما ذا ينفقون " that is a public recommendation for affection and peaceful co-existence… Our way is tolerance which is indicated in this transcription.

Indeed, the founder of divine religions never sends a messenger or a book to bother people and disturb their living. Our religion is "ملة ابيكم ابراهيم" which recognizes the whole religions' followers and divine religions as a big monotheistic family.

The message of theology teacher, Abraham, is "فمن تبعني فانه مني" which means the unity of all religions and inseparable relationship among all divine religions' followers; therefore, every negative and destructive tension against the world's monotheists is a devil movement.
We recognize the mission of messengers in consistent with every dictatorship, inquisition and violent actions. God said: " اني بعثت لا تمم مكارم الاخلاق " and also He mentioned the prophet was sent along with goodness, beauties and purities.

He had to be moved because of health issue back to Evin on August 19, 2009, and he should have been looking forward to a release that November, but he is still there.

Reform School Continued

Oh, the brave music of a distant drum! --Omar Khayyam

Serving his 11 year sentence since he waived leaving the country, his hair is now totally bleached out, and he suffers from cataracts. He recently sent out a rebuke that the current Iranian regime is worse than ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a.k.a. ISIL, Levant) or any other terrorist group like Al-Qaeda. In 2010 Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned Iran of its Rights violations, and likewise recently, her replacement John Kerry, obviously to deaf and uncaring ears.

Today The Department of Public Places, (Edareh Amaken Umumi), a division of the Law Enforcement Forces in recent years has become the ones who decide if someone is guilty of immorality, and their list is never too short.

I sent my soul through the invisible,
some letter of that afterlife to spell;
and by and by my soul returned to me,
and answered, "I myself am Heav'n and Hell"
--Omar Khayyam


Arash Honarvar Shojayee, a dissident blogger and cleric describes a very similar scenario, and mentions other names oppressed:

I was arrested on October 28, 2010. I was sentenced to 4 years in prison, 50 lashes, and $800 in cash fines, and lifetime defrocking as a cleric on charges of ‘espionage,’ ‘propagating against the regime,’ ‘acting against national security,’ and ‘disrespecting the clergy. I spent five months in a solitary cell inside Evin Prison’s Ward 209, and another three months inside a two-person cell. Later I was transferred to the General Ward 350 until my ruling was issued. Beginning on October 5, 2011, I was transferred to the Special Clerics Ward. I received a medical furlough to seek treatment for my ailments and I gave an interview with Kaleme Website about how I was treated during my detention, as well as answering questions about statements made against me in the newspapers. I also wrote an open letter, criticizing the Special Court for Clergy. After these my furlough was not extended and I returned to prison. But when I returned to prison, I protested having to return while my medical treatment was incomplete, so I stepped on a wet hunger strike for nine days. I have a heart condition and epilepsy and according to a Medical Examiner’s letter, I had to undergo further treatment and more tests, but they returned me to prison half-way through my treatment.

On the ninth day of my hunger strike, Hojjat-ol-Islam Montazeri, who was head of the Administrative Justice Courts at the time, came to visit me as a representative from Mr. Khamenei. He said that my hunger strike was an excuse for foreign media propaganda. He said no clergy has ever gone on a hunger strike. He insisted that I end the hunger strike and promised that in less than 15 days I would be given medical furlough again. I ended my hunger strike and he gave me medical leave, on the condition that I would not interview with the media. On May 4, there was talk about a general pardon and Mr. Ghadyani, the Prosecutor at the Tehran Special Court for the Clergy said that he would put my name on the pardon list and the Judge in my case also agreed with the pardon. It appeared that my pardon was final, but in the end, against the common process of Special Court for the Clergy, the pardon did not apply to me. The reason I say this was against the common process is that according to the process, if someone does not have a plaintiff and there is no monetary claim, he could qualify for a degree of pardon, for example 1/3 of their prison sentence, or their flogging or cash fines could be eliminated through the pardon. But none of these applied to me.

On October 28, 2010, I was at home with my mother. The two of us were not in a good psychological state because my father had just passed away. All of a sudden, two armed forces, along with several other forces, broke down the door to our house and entered. They made my mother lie down on the floor and they pointed a rifle at her. Before I could make a move, they beat me and threw me to the ground. My ribs broke as a result of their blows. They then blindfolded us and searched our home until midnight. They confiscated all the things I had written for the past 15 years. They took a lot of items with them, items that belonged to the family and were not related to my charges, such as family albums. They arrested my wife two days after me. They put pressure on me for television interviews. They wanted to call the broadcast “Confessions of A God-less Arash.” In a completely illegal move, prior to holding my trial court, they stated on IRIB that I was a spy and a seditious fake cleric. They asked on Kayhan Newspaper whether I was really a cleric.

During my furlough leave, in order to prove that I was a cleric I published the hand writings of 25 Grand Ayatollah’s who had confirmed me during the years. I went to visit them and took photographs with them. I put the photographs on RASA website, which belongs to the traditional clerics,” he said. “I will have a new court trial on July 11 on charges of “propagating falsehoods.” Their evidence for this charge is my interview with Kaleme Website. I view this new trial as completely illegal, because according to the law, they must first review whether what I said was the truth or not, and (if not,) then try me on charges of “propagating falsehoods.” What I said is the absolute truth. I spoke in my interview about how the forces attacked my home, how I was interrogated, and how I was put under pressure. Therefore, according to Article 727 of Islamic Penal Code, this is one of the crimes that needs a plaintiff, and I don’t have a plaintiff. They also did not allow me to choose a lawyer. Therefore I consider this court as illegal and I am sure that it will convict me just like the other court did.

During my very long interrogation phase I was under a lot of pressure. There was pressure on me to accept the charges of espionage and cooperating with anti-religion websites and to accept that I wrote internet content under the name of Godless Arash. I didn’t do this because I thought that if I maintained silence for a while, the circumstances might change. But when I was not granted a pardon and they set up a new trial for me, I felt that their stance against me has become harsher. They even disrupted my medical treatment. The Special Court for the Clergy took my original letters from the Medical Examiner, which ordered my hospitalization, so that they may make some photocopies of them and attach them to my case. But they never returned them.

I grew up in Germany until I was 11 years old. Apparently, their issue was why would someone who grew up in Germany and who does not belong to a religious family, want to become a Seminary student. I also translated German texts. They accused me of promoting the German culture and literature, but what I was doing was purely cultural. I taught German at Goethe Institute from 2001 until 2004. Of course I had no problems at the time that I was doing these things, and I even worked as an IRIB anchor, too. But after my return, everything I did was seen as espionage and they tried to show that my presence at the Seminary had come as a result of orders by Germans to collect information for them and to infiltrate the clerical community through me.

Maybe one of the reasons was that I entered the Seminary when I was very young and I became a Mujtahid (source of emulation) very quickly. The Grand Ayatollahs represent different social spectra of revolutionary, dissident, and critical-of-the-government ways of thinking. I interacted with the whole spectrum and knew a lot about each of them. Until I was arrested, I reflected the thinking and writing of Grand Ayatollahs who thought differently and criticized the concept of Velayat-e Faghih (Supreme Jurist/Leader) and actions of Ayatollah Khomeini in my blogs, “Yad-daasht ha va bardaasht ha” (Notes and Perceptions). In my blogs, the concept of Velayat-e Faghigh has been frequently critiqued, not politically, but theologically. And now it’s funny that they would use all of this to charge me with ‘propagating against the regime through weakening Velayat-e Faghih,’ because it is a Seminary student’s job to critique and express his opinions. It was my right as a student to reflect my findings, so that others could point out its deficiencies.

The other thing is that a book I wrote about the life and thinking of deceased Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari caused a lot of sensitivity…I also defended Grand Ayatollah’s under house arrest, such as Seyed Mohammad Shirazi, Seyed Hassan Ghomi, Seyed Sadegh Rohani, and other dissident Grand Ayatollahs. I also oppose the state’s interference in the Seminary affairs. Along with some other students, I boycotted the Qom Seminary Management Council examinations. When the Council was set up, the traditional Grand Ayatollahs believed that it was meant for the rulers to interfere in the affairs of the Seminary. In his statements about this Council in 1995, Ayatollah Khamenei said that the goal was that all Seminary students had to be tested through the Council examination, and that if the Council did not select them, they could not be students. During these years, students like me, who favored the Seminary’s independence, have boycotted the Council examinations.

To summarize, because they couldn’t state that a cleric and teacher of the Seminary has been arrested for his critique of the Velayat-e Faghih concept and his support of critical Grand Ayatollahs, they leveled such charges against me. In fact, if a Seminary student does not participate in the Council examinations, he cannot receive his diploma, but according to Arash Honarvar Shojayee, he can take the traditional route to the point where the Grand Ayatollah’s would confirm him. “Once confirmed, you will be confirmed by all other clerics. That is how it was for me. I didn’t have a diploma, and I was not using government funds during my Seminary studies. But after I became a Mujtahid, my teacher requested permission for me to wear the cleric frock.

See, the Clerics Court was formed based only on a procedures manual. According to Articles 159 and 172 of the Iranian Constitution, the the courts of justice are the only official bodies to which all grievances and complaints are to be referred, and Special Military Courts only attend to special crimes committed by military personnel. Also, according to Article 173 of the Constitution, the Administrative Justice Court is also authorized to review the people’s grievances. The legislator only recognizes these three bodies as qualified for review of cases according to the law and does not recognize other bodies as legal. Therefore, the Revolutionary Court and the Special Court for the Clergy are fundamentally illegal and their rulings are not legal. This is why I do not recognize my court and its ruling as valid. Especially where it pertains to the defrocking ruling handed to me. This issue is related to the clerics and the Grand Ayatollahs and is a clear example of the interference of the rulers in the affairs of the Seminary and the clerics. When I was served with my sentence, I told them that you did not frock me to defrock me now, the Grand Ayatollah’s frocked me.


One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
--Omar Khayyam

(Note: Iran is a region, Persia is an ethnicity, Farsi is the official language, though the country has percentages of Arabs, Kurds and others.)


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