Iran Elite Gets Rare Rebuke as Official Demands College Freedoms

(Bloomberg) -- An education official has delivered a rare rebuke to Iran’s law and security authorities in the presence of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a speech cheered by both reformists and hardliners. 

Sahar Mehrabi addressed Khamenei frequently as she condemned the judiciary’s “unlawful interference” in other areas of the state, and called for women to receive equal treatment and opportunities. Photographs of her speaking from behind a podium at the mosque event and greeting Khamenei were published on his official website late Monday. 

“We are worried, Leader of the Revolution! We’re worried about the long-term suffocation of universities -- they are not well,” Mehrabi said, according to a speech transcript published by Ensaf News which she also tweeted. “You know about the jailing of students and the long sentences handed to a number of them.”

The unusually frank admonition of the establishment comes amid heightened tensions in Iran. Conservatives who opposed closer ties with the West have been boosted by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal that underpins the moderate presidency of Hassan Rouhani. Anti-government demonstrations roiled Iran in January, and since then several women have spent time in detention for sporadic protests over dress restrictions.

In the speech, Mehrabi said “parallel political-security institutions” and “illegal interventions by security forces in the work of nationally elected bodies” had weakened people’s rights.

Freedoms

While some Iranians used Twitter to praise her for publicly challenging institutions controlled by Khamenei, others mostly from among his own conservative supporters, said Mehrabi’s speech demonstrated that freedom of expression exists in the Islamic Republic.

It was unclear to what extent Khamenei’s office, or state officials who organized the event, were aware of the content of Mehrabi’s speech before it was delivered.

Khamenei appeared to address her concerns in comments tweeted afterwards. “That young person who says the situation is bad, I acknowledge their feelings, but not at all the content of their speech,” he said.

Mehrabi ended her speech by taking a swipe at exiled Iranians who, emboldened by Trump’s steps to confront Iran, have been calling for regime change in Tehran. “Fake people, outsiders with vested interests, terrorists and descendants of the monarchy” provide “no hope” for Iran, she said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.