Pro-reform Iranian religious leader dies aged 83

Critic of hardline former president Ahmadinejad and supporter of pro-reform Iranian politicians, Ayatollah Yousef Saanei had been hospitalized with broken hip and wrist

Ayatollah Yousef Saanei October 8, 2008. (Screengrab: YouTube)
Ayatollah Yousef Saanei October 8, 2008. (Screengrab: YouTube)

TEHRAN, Iran  — Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency on Saturday reported that a pro-reform religious leader, who sided with an opposition presidential candidate during the turmoil following the controversial 2009 elections, has died. He was 83.

Ayatollah Yousef Saanei died in a hospital in the holy city of Qom after being hospitalized for two days with a broken hip and wrist, IRNA said. Qom is known for its Shiite seminaries that attract students from across Iran and other countries.

In 2009, Saanei had supported opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and criticized hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who beat Mousavi in that year’s disputed elections. Mousavi’s electoral defeat led to the widespread Green Movement protests, which were put down by Iranian security forces.

That year, some opposition websites quoted Saanei as saying, “Ahmadinejad is not the president and cooperation with him is haram (forbidden by Islamic law).”

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pictured at his office in Tehran, in April 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

Many religious hard-liners in Iran isolated Saanei because of the positions he staked out after the 2009 elections. The Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom stripped him of his authority to issue religious edicts, and his website was blocked a year later.

Saanei also supported Iran’s current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate within the country’s political system, during his successful 2013 presidential run.

Many members of Rouhani’s Cabinet visited Saanei after taking office.

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