TEHRAN, Feb 17, 2008 (AFP) – An Iranian ayatollah died suddenly of a heart attack during an impassioned speech lashing out at insults against the family of revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the run-up to elections, the press reported on Sunday.
Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Tavassoli, a former head of Khomeini’s office, died while delivering the speech to Iran’s main arbitration body, the Expediency Council, of which he was a member, the Kargozaran daily reported.
He had been responding to unprecedented ultra-conservative attacks against Hassan Khomeini, Ayatollah Khomeini’s respected grandson, who had criticised mass disqualifications in the March election and military interference.
“He was attacking those people with fossilized minds who attack the family and the ideas of the Imam Khomeini when he had a cardiac arrest,” Mohammad Hashemi, brother of council head Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, told the paper.
He also quoted a letter from Khomeini from the early days of the revolution denouncing “reactionaries who attack the family and friends of the Imam Khomeini under the pretext of defending him.”
“Defending the Imam until the very last moment,” lauded the headline of Kargozaran next to a picture of Tavassoli, 77.
The manner of Tavassoli’s sudden death underlines the tensions ahead of the March 14 parliamentary election.
Hundreds of reformist candidates have been disqualified in initial vetting while the head of the Revolutionary Guards made a surprise announcement that the elite force favours conservatives in the race.
Hassan Khomeini, who rarely makes comments in public, had bitterly criticised both of these events prompting extraordinary attacks against him by ultra-conservative websites.
In a piece entitled: “The secrets about the rosy cheeks of Seyyed Hassan Khomeini”, the Nosazi (Restoration) website made allegations about him owning a BMW car, having a personal steam sauna and living in affluent north Tehran.
This in turn prompted another backlash in the press against the radical websites denouncing Khomeini’s family, a taboo in the Islamic republic.
The judiciary subsequently shut down five unnamed internet sites for disturbing public opinion, one of which was believed to be Nosazi which is now impossible to access.