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Mohammad Ali Kamfiruzi speaks at the meeting with Iran's supreme leader in 2016.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told a doctoral student in 2016 that criticizing him was not a crime. Four years later, the former student has been given a suspended prison term for mildly criticizing Khamenei.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei assured a doctoral student in a 2016 meeting that there was nothing wrong with criticizing the country's top official.

"Speaking against me is neither [reprimandable] nor is it a crime, I've said it many times," Khamenei said at the July 2, 2016, meeting with a group of handpicked students, including Mohammad Ali Kamfiruzi.

The young student had directly confronted Khamenei over rights abuses in the Islamic republic, including violating people's freedom of expression.

Four years later, the former student who became a lawyer has been given a two-year suspended prison sentence for offering mild criticism of Khamenei in a 2018 speech.

Kamfiruzi -- whose father was a Basij fighter killed in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War -- has also been ordered to make 60 trips to Shiraz, his hometown, within five years to report to the intelligence branch of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whose commanders are appointed by Khamenei.

Feared Unit

Kamfiruzi thinks the feared unit is the one who pushed for his sentence.

Kamfiruzi published details of his case earlier this week on Twitter. There he said the IRGC's feared intelligence branch had been pursuing him for the "last three or four years."

The IRGC's intelligence unit has detained many activists, journalists, environmentalists, and dual citizens in recent years.

Kamfiruzi said he was convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Shiraz of insulting Iran's highest authority based on two sentences in a speech he made in the south-central city two years ago to mark Students Day.

"The performance of the leader can also be criticized when it comes to the rights and freedoms of citizens," is the first one and the second: "It is regrettable if the leader is not aware of the violations of citizen's rights [in some of the bodies under his supervision] and if he's aware and does not take action it is 100 times more unfortunate."

The case highlights the high-level of state repression in Iran, where even those loyal to the Islamic republic -- which includes Kamifiruzi -- are being prosecuted for speaking their mind and criticizing the country's security apparatus.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on all matters in his country.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on all matters in his country.

In his 2016 meeting with Khamenei, a video of which was posted on the leader's website, Kamifiruzi highlighted a long list of rights violations -- including pressure on the press and student publications -- and the state media's defamation of critics and former government officials, an apparent reference to opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, as well as reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi.

All of them have been living under house arrest since 2011.

'My Father Was Martyred'

Kamifiruzi concluded his remarks -- which have received so much attention -- by asking Khamenei how the establishment should deal with people like him who are "attached" to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the establishment but are critical of some repressive policies and social ills.

"I was three years old when my father was martyred. I have no doubt that if -- God forbid -- one day any foreign power has [bad intentions] towards Iran, I would be the first person to go to the front lines to defend this [Islamic] establishment and Iran's territorial integrity," he said.

"Despite supporting you stances regarding hostility towards [the United States] and economic justice, I oppose some of your views regarding the domestic politics of the work of some of the bodies under your control," Kamirfiruzi added, calling on the supreme leader to "please tell me how the establishment should deal with me and people like me."

In recent years, those criticizing Khamenei have been detained, pressured, tortured, and sent to jail.

Some of them -- namely Musavi, Rahnavard, and Karrubi -- have been put under house arrest with limited contact with the outside world and amid reports of their deteriorating health.

Despite the pressure, criticism of the leader who has the last say on all matters in Iran has been on the rise, with many chanting against him or calling him a dictator in recent street protests in the capital, Tehran, and other cities.

In recent months a number of activists have also issued public letters calling on Khamenei to resign.

Khamenei has not ever publicly reacted to the criticism. And despite what he told Kamifiruzi, it apparently will not be tolerated.

Syarhey Tsikhanouski (file photo)

Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a jailed Belarusian vlogger who is seeking to take part in an August presidential election and facing criminal charges, has been sentenced to additional 15 days in jail on a charge of "disobeying the police."

HRODNA, Belarus -- Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a jailed Belarusian vlogger who is seeking to take part in an August presidential election and facing criminal charges, has been sentenced to additional 15 days in jail on a charge of "disobeying the police."

Tsikhanouski took part in the July 1 hearing in a court in the western city of Hrodna via video link from a detention center in Minsk, the capital.

He rejected the charge and called it politically motivated.

The Lenin district court found Tsikhanouski guilty of refusing to follow the orders of a police officer in Hrodna on May 29 during rallies held to collect signatures for potential independent presidential candidates, including himself.

The court sentenced him to 15 days in jail.

Tsikhanouski's supporters in the courtroom chanted, "Shame! Shame!" and "Down with the judge!" after the ruling was pronounced.

Tsikhanouski was first arrested in late May and sentenced to 10 days in jail for taking part in the unsanctioned rally in Hrodna.

He was set to be released on June 8 after completing the sentence but he was kept incarcerated and said a day later that he and seven others had been charged with "the organization and preparation of actions that severely violated public order," a reference to the May 29 rally.

If convicted, Tsikhanouski and the seven others in the case may face up to three years in prison.

Tsikhanouski is the owner of a popular YouTube channel called The Country for Life, which challenges the Belarusian authorities.

In mid-May, the Central Election Commission rejected Tsikhanouski's registration documents for his candidacy for a presidential election scheduled for August 9.

Since Tsikhanouski's candidacy was rejected, his wife, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has been trying to get registered as a candidate herself, collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures to qualify.

Amnesty International has recognized Tsikhanouski and another jailed potential presidential candidate, Viktar Babaryka, and his son Eduard as prisoners of conscience.

Babaryka and his son were arrested on June 18 after the police questioned them on allegations of tax evasion and money laundering in connection with an investigation at Russian-owned Belgazprombank, where the elder Babaryka worked for 20 years.

Belarusian authorities on June 15 took control of the bank and arrested more than a dozen top executives on charges of tax evasion and money laundering.

Babaryka is said to have compiled more than four times the number of signatures needed to be a candidate in the election.

Critics of incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus for more than 25 years, say his government has shown little tolerance for dissent and independent media.

Several international and domestic rights groups, western governments and the United Nations experts have called on Belarusian authorities to stop persecuting political activists, rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers ahead of the presidential election.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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