A dissident Iranian cleric said Friday he is confident of a resurgence of the protest movement in his country, calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency the most "destructive" in Iran's history.
Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, an outspoken middle-ranking cleric who was jailed for four years in Iran, told a conference of Iran scholars and experts in Berlin that Ahmadinejad's administration has "crossed almost all political and religious lines."
Eshkevari said through a translator there has never been a "similar gang that has been so destructive" and that this Iranian regime is deeply at odds with Shia tradition, ultimately threatening to "destroy Islam, the government and the country."
The cleric, who fled to seek political asylum in Germany two years ago, said he is confident that the protest movement that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election will eventually come back to the forefront again.
"I have no doubt that this movement will come back," he said. "In the future there will be a democratic development," he said, adding that he believes the majority of the country's young population not only longs for change, but also has grown estranged from religion.
The peaceful development of nuclear power is supported by many Iranians, but they reject the country's leaders' alleged push to develop an atomic bomb, he said.
A fatwa, or religious edict, by the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri also explicitly forbade the pursuit of developing nuclear weapons, said Eshkevari.
"Neither the people nor the common Mullahs want this weapon of mass destruction," he said.
Eshkevari, 63, was arrested in 2000 after returning to Iran from a conference in Berlin where he made remarks considered by the regime to be detrimental to religion and state and was charged with crimes that can be punished with the death sentence in the Islamic Republic.
He was sentenced to seven years in jail and was released after serving four before seeking asylum in Germany.
On Tuesday, the U.N. atomic agency released a report that for the first time said Iran is suspected of conducting secret experiments whose sole purpose is the development of nuclear arms.
The next day, Ahmadinejad slammed the International Atomic Energy Agency's report, saying Tehran would not retreat "an iota" from its nuclear program. On Thursday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Israel and the United States that Tehran's response will be tough should its archenemies choose a military strike against Iran over the country's controversial nuclear program.
Iran insists it is pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.