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Jailed Iranian Filmmaker Challenges Supreme Leader

Iranian writer and filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad in a 2008 photo
Iranian filmmaker and journalist Mohammad Nourizad has written an open letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arguing that the United States does more to protect religious freedom and moral values than Iran, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Nourizad -- who has been in Tehran's Evin prison since August --- wrote in his letter on October 10 that since Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election, violations of people's privacy has become more common.

He said religious mobs have attacked the home of Ayatollah Yusef Sanei, a critic of Khamenei. In the United States, by contrast, he said personal privacy is strictly protected by law.

Nourizad previously wrote for the conservative newspaper "Keyhan" and said he fully supported Khamenei until last year's controversial presidential election caused him to speak out against the government.

He was arrested late last year after publishing several open letters on his blog deemed as disrespectful to Khamenei and other senior officials. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. He also was sentenced to 50 lashes on charges that remain unclear.

He was released on June 24 but summoned back to prison in August after writing a blog post that was critical of Khamenei.

Referring in his letter to religious freedom in the United States, Nourizad wrote: "The American judicial authority defends Muslims' rights and allows them to build mosques just a short distance from the Twin Towers. But in Islamic Iran, Sunni Muslims are not allowed their own mosque to worship without fear in Tehran."

Comparing morality in Iran and the United States, Nourizad wrote: "Americans have been brought up in such a way that they seldom lie, while lying is clearly evident among the people and authorities in our country."

He asked: "The chances of an American prosecutor telling a lie are virtually nil, except in rare cases, but what about prosecutors in our country? Our prosecutors lie as easily as taking a sip of water -- they formulate and disseminate untrue rulings."

As for freedom of speech, Nourizad wrote to Khamenei: "You are the only person in Iran who has freedom of speech, while everyone in America has freedom of speech."

He continued: "We are Muslims but tainted by hypocrisy, while [Americans] who seem to be pagans do not know hypocrites. You, as an imam, should issue a fatwa and tell us which nation is closer to God."

Nourizad said there are no political prisoners in the United States but many in Iran.

Nourizad concluded his letter by saying that Islam coexists peacefully with other faiths in the United States, but claimed that is not the case in Iran or Afghanistan.