"The people of Isfahan will not allow authorities to bury the body of a CIA spy in the city," Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the city's Friday prayers leader, said of the burial plans for U.S. scholar Richard Frye, the hard-line Fars news agency reported.
His comments came amid an escalating dispute over Frye's wish to be buried in the Iranian city, where two other U.S. experts on Iran -- Arthur Pope and Phyllis Ackerman -- already have been laid to rest.
Dozens of hard-liners in Isfahan protested against the plan on April 10. The demonstration followed attacks on the deceased scholar in the hard-line media, including the influential "Kayhan" daily, which often carries the views of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Frye, a prominent and highly respected scholar of Iranian studies, had asked in his will to be buried next to the Zayandeh Rud river, which flows through Isfahan.
"Act upon the will of Imam Khomeini [the founder of the Islamic republic], not the will of Frye," read one banner held by demonstrators at this week’s protest.
"Isfahan, the city of martyrs. Not the burial site of the dirty American spy Frye," read another banner held by a young man.
Earlier on April 10, Ahmad Salek, a lawmaker from Isfahan and a member of the parliament's cultural committee, called on Iranian President Hassan Rohani not to allow the burial of Frye, whom he called a "cultural bandit," in the Islamic republic.
Not everyone agreed, though.
Another member of the parliament's committee, conservative Ali Motahari, said Rohani should facilitate Frye's burial beside the Zayandeh Rud. He said Iran should fulfill its previous commitment to honor Frye’s request, which reportedly had been approved by former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2007.
Frye, sometimes referred to as "dean of the world's Iranologists," died on March 27 in Boston at the age of 94. He has been credited with helping establish the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.
His death was mourned by many Iranian intellectuals who say he played an outsized role in introducing and promoting Iranian culture in the West.
Syracuse university professor Mehrdad Boroujerdi said that whenever Frye was referred to as an "Iranologist," he would say that he is in fact an "Irandust," or "friend of Iran."
"He was proud to have been given the title 'Irandust' when he was young by [prominent Iranian linguist] Ali Akbar Dehkhoda," Boroujerdi told RFE/RL following Frye's death.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif paid his public tribute to Frye on Twitter a day after the scholar's death.
"Deeply saddened by passing of Prof Richard Frye: true friend & scholar of #Iran. His legacy as giant will forever live on. God rest his soul," Zarif tweeted on March 28.
Zarif and other government officials have not commented publicly on the controversy over Frye's possible burial in Iran.
On April 8, prominent Iranian journalist and writer Ali Dehbashi was quoted by Iranian media as saying that Frye's burial presented a "very rare opportunity" for Iran's foreign policy system.
"His burial in Iran is a symbolic act and it is significant for us that an American scholar has selected Iran for his eternal resting place," Dehbashi was quoted as saying.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari