It is unfortunate that the western world has such a negative image of people of the Muslim faith. To most Americans and Europeans the notion of Islam embodies an extreme religion of violence and human rights abuses. Yet, we hear it said that Islam is a religion of peace and that the Islamic extremists we see in Iran and other nations where Shariah law is enforced do not represent the true Islamic faith. Many ask “Where are these peaceful Muslim leaders? Why do we never hear about them? Do they really exist?” In fact they do. One such Islamic leader is Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi who today is held captive in a prison in Yazd in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi is a Shi'a Muslim cleric who supports the freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion in Iran. He believes that the government should not be controlled by religion. Thus, he supports the separation of government from the dominance of Islam. Ayatollah Boroujerdi believes that the repressive government of Iran, which purports to exist under the rules of Islam, is not true Islam at all. According to Ayatollah Boroujerdi true Islam is a religion of tolerance, mercy and compassion which is the opposite of the religion of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi is the son of Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Kazemeini Boroujerdi who died under suspicious circumstances in an Iranian prison in 2002. His father was one of the leading religious leaders of Iran in the Pahlavi government and published over thirty books. He was widely respected in the western world as well as in Iran and he refused to support Ayatollah Khamenei’s efforts to establish the Islamic regime in 1979. As a result of his refusal of support he was persecuted and imprisoned in an Iranian prison where he eventually died.
The younger Ayatollah Boroujerdi became openly critical of human rights abuses of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1994. For over a decade he spoke to his supporters about the need to peacefully promote their views and he is opposed to violence in any form. On October 7, 2006 Ayatollah Boroujerdi was arrested along with many of his supporters who had gathered at his home. Although no crime had been committed, witnesses say that they were incarcerated and subjected to torture in section 209 of Evin Prison.
The government of Iran has not provided any information concerning his prosecution and conviction. In a special clerical court, without representation by legal counsel, Ayatollah Boroujerdi was initially sentenced to death but due to appeals and international pressure, the sentence was changed to eleven years of imprisonment ten of which are to be in exile in Yazd. Ayatollah Boroujerdi was then coerced, under threat of torture, to give a statement in which he was forced to confess to acts he did not commit. This forced confession was televised nationally in Iran in an attempt to humiliate Ayatollah Boroujerdi and others who share his belief in the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.
Since his incarceration in the Iranian prison Ayatollah Boroujerdi has been brutally tortured resulting in serious injury to his vital organs. He has been repeatedly refused medical treatment by his captors and his family and supporters have also undergone torture. His wife has been brought into his prison cell and forcibly raped in his presence. He and his family have been victims of incomprehensible cruelty at the hands of this tyrannical regime.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi has committed no crime. He is a peaceful man who does not advocate violence nor does he threaten the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in any way though he supports the separation of religion from government. All he has done is to advocate for the unalienable right of the individual to hold personal religious beliefs and to exercise freedom of speech. For this he has been subjected to imprisonment and torture under continuous threat of execution.
Article 56 of the United Nations Charter requires that all member nations pledge to "take joint and separate action in cooperation with the Organization (UN) for the achievement of the purposes set forth in Article 55." Article 55 includes several paragraphs most notably here "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion."
Article 18 Section 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, provides that:
“1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
Article 19, Sections 1 and 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide that:
“1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides in pertinent part:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Ayatollah Boroujerdi has been denied his rights under each of the above referenced Articles and sections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. He has been arrested held in confinement and tortured because of his beliefs and for expressing his views on political matters.
On September 24, 2007 Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke in the United States at Columbia University. In response to the introduction from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, President Ahmadinejad said the following:
“I think the text read by the dear gentleman here, more than addressing me, was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here, present here. In a university environment we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk so that the truth is eventually revealed by all."
"Certainly he took more than all the time I was allocated to speak, and that's fine with me. We'll just leave that to add up with the claims of respect for freedom and the freedom of speech that's given to us in this country.”
In his words, which have been communicated to billions of people throughout the world, President Ahmadinejad expressed his belief in the freedom of speech and the right of people to “speak their mind.” Yet, within the nation of Iran people are arrested and tortured for “speaking their mind.”
Now the world is watching to see if Iran will live up to the high standard set by these words of the President Ahmadinejad. Will Iran release Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, who has done nothing more than exercise his right to “speak his mind,” as President Ahmadinejad said, so that “truth is eventually revealed by all.”What can you do to help free Ayatollah Boroujerdi? If you would like to show your support of this victim of the Iranian terror machine, you may sign the petition at
The United Nations has been requested to investigate this case and to assure that Ayatollah Boroujerdi is provided the needed medical attention. If we join efforts to support the release of Ayatollah Boroujerdi, the leaders of Iran will take note. While it may seem a futile effort, it is important to bear in mind that Iran seeks to become a member of the international community. The embarrassment brought about by these abuses when publicized will ultimately compel the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release this honorable man and his supporters.
Copyright DW Duke, 2008
DW Duke is a partner in the California based law firm of Giardinelli and Duke, APC. He is a writer, a human rights activist, President of International Children’s Aid and legal counsel to Stop Child Executions which are organizations devoted to securing the inalienable rights of children and others throughout the world in nations where human rights abuses occur.
December 19, 2008
The Tragic Story of Ayatollah Boroujerd