Published: July 11, 2009

BEIRUT, Lebanon — One of Iran’s most senior clerics issued an unusual decree on Saturday calling the country’s rulers “usurpers and transgressors” for their treatment of opposition protesters in recent weeks, in the strongest condemnation by a religious figure since the contested presidential election a month ago.

The decree by Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a dissident who has often criticized Iran’s ruling clerics, did not mention by name Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but was clearly aimed at the clerical leadership.

Posted on the Web site of Mohsen Kadivar, a dissident cleric and former student of Ayatollah Montazeri, the ruling said the recent arrests and shootings of protesters were proof that Iran’s leaders are unqualified to rule the community of Muslims.

“In my estimate this is the strongest criticism ever of the supreme leader,” said Rasool Nafisi, a United States-based academic and Iran expert. “Although it doesn’t mention Ayatollah Khamenei by name, it is clear he is referring to him.”

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