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How Iran has moved to defrock ‘Instagram cleric’

An Iranian cleric’s defrocking has brought attention to a particular court that is unique to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On Jan. 12, Seyed Hasan Aghamirii, a popular Iranian cleric, posted on his Instagram account that he had been sentenced to two years in prison and defrocked. The latter is an unusual and rather modern form of punishment in the world of Shiite Islam that is exclusive to the Islamic Republic of Iran. “After 10, 15 years of arrests and taking over my work space and solitary confinement … eventually they issued their verdict: two years in prison, which they kindly reduced to a five-year suspended sentence and permanent defrocking,” Aghamirii posted on his Instagram account.

The case was not handled by a regular court, but by the Special Court of Clergy, a court independent of Iran’s judiciary, which traces its origins to 1980s post-revolutionary Iran. The founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and former supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, created the inspiration for a special court for clerics during a speech in 1979. “Not acting in accordance with Islam and betrayal of Islam from a turbaned person is worse than it being from someone who is not turbaned,” Khomeini said. His reasoning was that clerics under the previous government, who were using the clergy for personal power, were destroying the reputation of the clergy. “God knows that if there is a special court it is not for [our] defense,” he said. “It is because a handful of corrupt people want to destroy a respectable people [clerics].”

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