QOM, Iran – Iran's senior dissident cleric was unmoved by the announcement that his five years of house arrest may be over and remains committed to the controversial ideas that led to his punishment, his son said Tuesday.
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was once tapped to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran's supreme leader, but had a falling out with Khomeini. Montazeri was later put under house arrest for challenging Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Supreme National Security Council, Iran's highest security decision-making body, effectively lifted the house arrest order Tuesday, after reports the 81-year-old cleric's health was deteriorating.
Montazeri's son, Amhad, said that the ayatollah's health had improved since hearing the announcement and that telephone calls had flooded in with well-wishers requesting to visit his father and pay their respects.
"He is not moved by the news. He remains committed to what he said. If the order is lifted, then that is a good step. If not, then life goes on," the son told The Associated Press.
"Whatever the case, the house arrest will remain as a black page in the history of the Islamic republic," he said.
It was not immediately clear when the decision would be enforced. Iranian officials were not available for comment.
In an interview with BBC Persian, Montazeri said he had not asked the authorities to lift his house arrest and would reject any conditions imposed on him.
"If the authorities want to lift the restrictions it's up to them. Otherwise I'm a patient man," he said.
Montazeri also criticized Iranian President Mohammad Khatami for not fulfilling his reform promises.
"When Mr. Khatami first came to power, the people were very hopeful. But if he continues like this the people will be very disappointed. He should review his manner. He should fulfill his promises to reform Iranian society," Montazeri said. Khatami was elected in 1997 and re-elected in 2001.
The government's move followed intense pressure by pro-reformist lawmakers for the freeing of the ailing Montazeri.
Montazeri has been confined to his home in Qom, 80 miles southwest of Tehran, since November 1997 after saying that Khamenei was not competent to issue religious rulings. Iran's state-run media stripped Montazeri of his religious title, describing him as a "simple-minded" cleric. Reformists still refer to him as a grand ayatollah.
Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, apparently approved the decision to lift the house arrest.
Although talking about Montazeri has been strongly discouraged since 1997, many Iranians have called for his freedom. More than 100 legislators urged Khatami this month to lift the house arrest, and a senior reformist Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri urged Qom religious leaders to intervene for Montazeri.
"I believe the religious leaders approached the supreme leader and urged him to lift the house arrest order," the cleric's son said.