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Clerical Court Convicts Outspoken Clergyman

Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekoonam
Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekoonam

The Special Clerical Court in Iran has convicted a clergyman, a religious instructor in Qom, to five years in prison and an undisclosed number of lashes, while also stripping him of the right to priesthood.

The Fars new agency reported that the special court announced on September 16 that its verdict against Mohammad Reza Nekoonam was final.

The court also said that in order to “protect” the status of the clergy and the reputation of the convicted clergyman it would not disclose any details about the case.

The Special Clerical Court was established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the early months following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Working under the direct control of the supreme leader, the court has convicted a number of prominent clergymen who opposed the regime’s policies.

Among the high-ranking and influential religious leaders convicted by the court were Abollah Nouri, Mousavi Khoeini and others.

Nekoonam was arrested three years ago for undisclosed reasons, although the Kalameh website connected with the Green Movement and some of his students believe his arrest was related to his indirect criticism of some hard-line clerics.

Nekoonam had indirectly criticized Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi’s opposition to having fast Internet in the country. He had said at the time, “A [true] Muslim is someone who is civilized and faithful, not foolish.”

His students and followers consider him an ayatollah, or a Shi’ite source of emulation. He has written many religious books and lectured regularly.

A year after he was arrested, during a brief home visit from prison, he had given an interview criticizing the state policy of enforcing strict religious social codes and encouraging citizens to act to enforce proper behavior on other citizens.

At the time, there was a series of incidents involving acid being thrown at women in Isfahan to punish alleged improper hijab. Nekoonam, in his interview, had criticized violence, saying that a society that is violent cannot enforce the correct religious behavior on citizens.

“The one who throws acid [at others] is the most violent person” and he is himself a “corrupt individual on earth.”

It was reported that Nekoonam was taken from prison to hospital in early August for undisclosed reasons and later returned to jail.