Criticizing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is widely seen as among Iran's so-called red lines. Dozens of intellectuals, activists, and politicians have been sidelined, harassed, or jailed for challenging the man who holds the final political and religious say in the Islamic republic.
Yet earlier this week, a female student rose in Khamenei's presence to harshly criticize the state of affairs in the country, including actions by powerful bodies controlled by the Iranian leader that have been cited by critics as major barriers to reform.
Sahar Mehrabi called for "deepening democracy" in Iran in the May 28 speech, delivered at an annual Iftar gathering that Khamenei holds to celebrate the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Mehrabi offered a list of "numerous crises" facing the country, including increasing social inequality, declining public trust, environmental problems, and discrimination against minorities. She asked Khamenei what he would do to tackle those issues.
She indirectly pointed the finger at the supreme leader, noting that the bodies under his watch are virtually untouchable. "The impossibility of conducting investigations into the work of some of the institutions under the supervision of Your Excellency, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the judiciary, the state broadcaster, and the Mostazafan Foundation" -- a reference to one of Iran's largest foundations -- "is in itself problematic," Mehrabi said.