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A lawsuit has been filed against Gholamhossein Karbaschi, a veteran politician and former mayor of the Iranian capital, Tehran, by the justice department in the central Iranian province of Isfahan. The case was launched following Karbaschi’s criticism of Iran’s foreign and regional policy in a speech at a campaign rally for President Hassan Rouhani in the city of Isfahan on April 28.

In the speech, Karbaschi -- who is chairman of the Executives Of Construction Of Iran Party, a reformist political grouping -- had criticized the country’s military involvement in the Iraq and Syria civil wars.

“Is it a sign of religious devotion to get involved in war in Iraq and Syria, under the banner of Defenders of the Sacred Sanctuary?” he asked, referring to the official name for Iranian-led forces dispatched to fight in Iraq and Syria, home to a majority of sacred Shi’ite sites.

“We also long to defend the oppressed and yearn to strengthen Shi’a in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq, as well as establishing peace,” he continued. “But is it only possible to do so through financing, arming, and killing?”

Karbaschi called for diplomacy to tackle these regional conflicts.

The head of Isfahan’s justice department, Ahmad Khosravi Wafa, condemned Karbaschi’s speech, labeling it a “criminal statement” and an “insult to the martyrs defending sacred sanctuaries.”

Election campaign debates in Iran are notably often avoid foreign policy issues, particularly any which may be considered controversial. On May 2, Iran’s military issued an official statement warning candidates to avoid military and defense issues, emphasizing that these fall outside the president’s purview.

Conservative and hardline media outlets immediately voiced their support for the lawsuit.

“Karbaschi’s comments are déjà vu of 2009 sedition, when Iran’s foreign policy was blatantly questioned behind the smokescreen of the presidential elections and the perverted slogan ‘Neither Gaza, Nor Lebanon, I Give My Life for Iran!’ ” wrote the ultra-conservative Kayhan daily, which is known to echo the views of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian officials and media close to Khamenei often refer to the popular protests as sedition. The protests began the night of June 12, 2009, following the surprise announcement of incumbent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s re-election with nearly 60 percent of the votes despite reported issues and irregularities with the election. Government forces attacked protesters on the streets, and scores of people were killed and hundreds arrested.

In the latest development of the story, Mr. Karbaschi tried to clarify his position by saying ‘No fair person defies the martyrs’.

However, the hard liners were not satisfied. On May 2, they surrounded an arena where Mr. Karbaschi was supposed to make a speech and inaugurate President Rohani’s campaign headquarters in the city of Garmsar, 110 km (70 miles) southeast of Tehran.

The hardliners under the banner of Hezbollah, or the “Party of God”, forced Mr. Karbaschi to stay away from the arena and cancel his speech, according to the local News Website, Garmsaronline.

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