Iran Student Mahmoud Vahidnia Lashes Out at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
An unassuming college math student has become an unlikely hero to many in Iran. For the young student dared to criticize the country's most powerful man to his face.
Mahmoud Vahidnia has received an outpouring of support from government opponents for his out burst.
In Iran 69 post-election protesters have been murdered inside prisons.
The young mathematics bright student has so far suffered no repercussions.
Supreme Leader Khamenei addressed students of Tehran's Sharif Technical University at a question-and-answer session.
In fact, Iran's clerical leadership appears to be touting the incident as a sign of its tolerance – so much so that some Iranians at first believed the 20-minute exchange was staged by the government, though opposition commentators are now convinced Vahidnia was the real thing.
Details of the encounter were reported on the state news agency IRNA and in a pro-government newspaper, Keyhan, which gave its account with a headline reading, "The revolutionary leader's fatherly response to critical youth." Even Khamenei's official Web site mentioned the incident.
Still some of those in attendance at the Oct. 28 forum say Khamenei appeared taken aback by the questioning and left the meeting early, according to commentary posted on pro-reform Web sites.
Khamenei told the students it was the "biggest crime" to question the results of the June 12 presidential election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
Khamenei himself declared Ahmadinejad the victor despite opposition claims of widespread fraud.
After the speech, Mahmoud Vahidnia raised his hand, then for 20 minutes he criticized the Iranian leader.
Mahmoud Vahidnia was fierce the crackdown on post-election protests. In which the opposition says 69 people were killed and thousands were arrested.
"I don't know why in this country it's not allowed to make any kind of criticism of you," said Mahmoud Vahidnia.
"Not even by the Assembly of Experts, whose duty is to criticize and supervise the performance of the leader," he said, referring to the clerical body that chooses the country's supreme leader.
The boldness of Vahidnia's comments underlines how Iran's post-election turmoil has undermined the once rock-solid taboo against challenging the supreme leader.
The supreme leader stands at the top of the hierarchy of Iran's clerical rulers, and his word is supposed to be final on political issues.
Scores of Iranian writers, bloggers and academics have been jailed for writing what authorities have deemed as insults to Khamenei.
But so far Vahidnia has been spared. The president of Sharif University even defended the student, saying he spoke within the law.
The incident has propelled the soft-spoken man in his early 20s to national prominence and inspired widespread support on the Web.
During the face-to-face exchange, Vahidnia also raised allegations of abuse of imprisoned opposition protesters.
"You, who have the role of a father, when you deal with your opponents in such a manner, your subordinates will likely behave similarly, as we have seen in the prisons," he told Khamenei, referring to the reports of torture and rape.
"Do you think radio and television have portrayed the recent events accurately or broadcast a caricature-type image of them?" he asked.
Vahidnia, a gold medalist at the country's National Math Olympics two years ago, said 'officials at first barred me from speaking, but Khamenei apparently allowed him to go ahead'.
Mahmoud Vahidnia said he was interrupted several times by the event's moderator who insisted they were out of time.
The state television aired excerpts of Khamenei's speech but did not show Vahidnia or mention the exchange.
Days later, however, it ran a report denying rumors he had been arrested and showed an image of him at the gathering.
In Italy, at least two parliament members have issued calls for their government to offer Vahidnia asylum if necessary.
Lawmaker Benedetto Della Vedova called the student a symbol of the "demands for change and modernity" in Iran.
Another parliament deputy, Angelo Bonelli, praised Vahidnia's "courage" and urged political leaders to stand by his "fight for rights and democracy."
Vahidnia's comments were so brazen and unprecedented that many Iranians thought it was staged by the government.
"I thought it was a hoax, to show us that we have freedom here," said one young Iranian woman who has participated in the opposition demonstrations.
"But now that it looks like it was real, I think it's a huge deal," she said. "Never before has anyone had the courage to do such a thing."