Iran's first president after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Abolhassan Banisadr, died yesterday at the age of 88, according to state media.
The former statesman died in the French capital Paris at the Salpêtrière hospital "after a long battle with illness" having lived there for decades since fleeing into exile. He was impeached just 16 months after taking office for challenging the growing power of the clerical establishment as the republic became a theocracy.
Born in 1933 in the Hamedan province of western Iran, Banisadr's father was an ayatollah and friend of the Islamic Republic's founder and first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Banisadr is said to have worked closely with Khomeini during his own exile in France, before returning to Tehran as the revolution unfolded.
However, his relationship with Khomeini deteriorated and he was eventually dismissed from parliament in 1981 with the Supreme Leader's approval due to "political incompetence". According to the AP Banisadr later said of Khomeini, "I was like a child watching my father slowly turn into an alcoholic." "The drug this time was power," he said.
He also criticised the Supreme Leader, saying that he "bears heavy responsibility for the appalling disaster that has befallen the country."
Banisadr boarded an Iranian Air Force Boeing 707 and escaped to France with Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Marxist-Islamist group, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) which is designated as a terrorist group by Iranian government. With his trademark moustache shaven off, Iranian media alleged he escaped dressed as a woman.
While a family statement described Banisadr as someone who "defended freedoms," a statement by the Iranian judiciary condemned him as being "under the shadow of French and Western intelligence" who "did not miss a beat to defame the people and the system of the Islamic Republic."