Hundreds attend funeral of Iranian dissident politician

August 31, 2017
Iranian cleric Mahmoud Doaei leads a prayer on the flag-draped coffin of Ebrahim Yazdi, a dissident politician and former foreign minister, in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Hundreds of Iranians attended the funeral Thursday of Ebrahim Yazdi, one of the country's most influential dissident politicians and a former foreign minister. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Hundreds of Iranians attended the funeral Thursday of Ebrahim Yazdi, one of the country’s most influential dissident politicians and a former foreign minister.

Yazdi was a close ally of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but he opposed the takeover of the U.S. Embassy and his party later broke with the clerics as they consolidated power.

Yazdi was the English-language spokesman for Khomeini during the revolution and was appointed foreign minister in early 1979 after the toppling of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a pro-Western monarch.

But he resigned as foreign minister later that year in protest at the takeover of the U.S. Embassy by militant students who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Washington later cut diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Yazdi had argued that the embassy takeover led to a harsher stance by Washington against the revolution and emboldened Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to wage an eight-year war against Iran, which left more than 1 million casualties on both sides. He was among a small group of politicians who believed the war should have come to end in early 1980s. It lasted until 1988.

After his resignation, Yazdi was frequently sentenced to prison on security charges, including an eight-year term in 2012. He appealed that verdict and never served the sentence. He remained in Iran until January, when he left to seek cancer treatment in Turkey.

Prior to the revolution, during a long stay in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s, Yazdi established the biggest Muslim association in the country, in Houston, Texas, and earned a reputation for protesting the shah in various states. He had worked as a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas until the mid-1970s.

Yazdi died Sunday at the age of 85 in Izmir, Turkey, where he was being treated for complications from cancer after being denied a U.S. visa for follow-up treatment in Houston.

The funeral took place in a mosque north of Tehran and was attended by many of Yazdi’s political allies as well as ordinary Iranians. His coffin was draped with the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran and friends acted as pallbearers.

The crowd of hundreds occasionally raised the traditional dissident demand for the release of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, who have been under house arrest since 2011.They both challenged the 2009 re-election of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ali Shakouri Rad, a reformist politician who attended the funeral, said Yazdi always sought freedom and pursued peace and reform.

“He is an icon for those things,” Rad said. “And that’s why you see large crowds have participated in his funeral.”

Some Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as well as former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, offered condolence messages after Yazdi’s death.

Yazdi was buried in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran, home to a shrine to Khomeini and the gravesites of many prominent Iranians. He is survived by his wife, Sorour Talieh Yazdi, four daughters and two sons.