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Khamenei's Tolerance For Criticism Stops At His Door


Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei meeting with Rouhani's new cabinet on Saturday August 26, 2017.

For the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticism is a good thing.

He said so during President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration and also when the new cabinet was presented.

Khamenei asked Rouhani to be more tolerant towards critics.

This beckons the question of how do critics fare in the Islamic Republic? To what extent do they enjoy freedom of expression and are they secure from harassment and prosecution?

Does Khamenei’s endorse criticism toward all organs of the government, himself included, or is he only blessing criticism against the elected government? What about the un-elected organs directly under his control, such as the Judiciary and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps?

In any case, Khamenei attaches a lot of strings to what he considers as “acceptable” criticism.

As a start, it should not be destructive and should not be motivated by a “constant desire to find fault”.

The critic should not focus solely on sores and open wounds. He should also see “the positive”. Criticism’s aim should be “reform”.

And last but not the least, criticism should be uttered within the bounds of the revolution’s principles, upholding the constitution and the legacy of Imam Rouhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

Criticism should also not endanger social peace and should not go against the foundations of the regime.

Khamenei’s conditions for acceptable criticism represent a tall order.

In fact, looking at the Islamic Republic’s track record with dissidents, punishable criticism virtually includes anything anyone would dare to complain about, touching institutions connected with the supreme leader and the clergy.

Let’s suppose that a critic violates any of these conditions. Criticism against the principles of the regime carries a one-year jail term. Criticism of the supreme leader would mean a six-month prison verdict for the offender.

In fact, looking at the Islamic Republic’s track record with dissidents, punishable criticism virtually includes anything anyone would dare to complain about, touching institutions connected with the supreme leader and the clergy.

In fact, ayatollah Khamenei has never liked to be criticized. Nine years ago, in a meeting with university students, he was asked why the supreme leader is never criticized publicly.

Khamenei’s answer was that the supreme leader can mobilize the country with moving a finger. He rhetorically asked, “Do you think it is a good idea to criticize him…just somebody stepping forward and throwing out innuendo…this is bad, it is not our custom”.

Khamenei believes that the revolution never ended and regards the slightest disagreement with him as treason.

On August 28, 2017, addressing seminary students he said: “The revolution continues. In case if some people try to argue that the revolution was an event, which has ended and let us return to normal life – this is treason. The revolution will never end.”

He also disagrees with Rouhani’s cultural policies. He has even boycotted the Tehran annual book fair and does not visit this unique cultural event. New trends in arts and literature are “cultural sloppiness” for Khamenei.

In March 2014, he called freedom “sloppiness”, because freedom goes against “the red lines” of the revolution and its “belief system”.

On August 25, 2016, he told Rouhani’s cabinet, free thinking is nothing more than sloppiness. “It is nothing more than allowing the enemy to enter through the gates of free thinking and free action to deal a blow [at us]”.

He also wholeheartedly defends the Guardian Council against criticism that it restricts free elections by barring many people from running for office.

In February 2015, he declared that weakening the Guardian Council “is America’s plan”. He then labelled those who question the Council’s vast powers, as collaborators with the enemy.

In short, for Khamenei criticism is good, as long as it is against elected officials and institutions, especially those who are not in full agreement with the supreme leader.

Criticism directed at non-elected bodies under his own control is bad and destructive.

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