Hardliners in Iran are continuing to punish Gholamhossein Karbaschi, a reformist politician backing President Hassan Rouhani, for his last week speech in which he questioned the Islamic Republic’s military role in Syria. In the latest incident, a pro-regime vigilante group forced the former mayor of Tehran to cancel a campaign rally in Semnan Province. Earlier this week, a court in Iran’s Isfahan Province also announced that it was preparing a case to prosecute Karbaschi. The move came after Karbaschi criticized the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) for sending combatants and weapons to Syria under the pretext of “defending shrines.” He is charged with insulting those “martyred” in Syria. “We also want the restoration of peace in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and all these regions - where the oppressed are defended and the Shiites are empowered," Karbaschi said during a campaign rally. "But is this achieved only through giving money, purchasing weapons and killing and beating?” the former mayor of Tehran continued: “Let us use the power of diplomacy to resolve regional issues.”

Comment: The Iranian regime has a zero-tolerance policy toward any criticism of its role in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the broader region. Authorities have arrested or threatened many ordinary Iranians who have questioned the regime’s costly military adventurism abroad at the expense of domestic priorities. While Iran’s regional policies are largely planned and executed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the I.R.G.C. and its elite Quds Force, many reformist activists also criticize the Rouhani government for not standing up to the regime’s acts of meddling in neighboring countries. Although Karbashchi is campaigning for Rouhani, the Iranian Foreign Ministry did not defend his stance on Syria. “When the talk is about blind terrorism which pays no value to human life, I think that the language of force may be the response to their cowardly actions,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Monday.

Last week, another video circulating on Iranian social media showed a university student strongly criticizing the I.R.G.C.’s costly military engagements abroad at the expense of domestic priorities. “Mr. Hassan Abbasi: Your theory is the theory of terror and horror and exporting arms and war. Your theory is supporting dictator and murderous Bashar al-Assad,” the student said to applause from the audience at the Azarbaijan Shahid Madani University. Abbasi – who is the head of an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) think tank called Center for Borderless Security Doctrinal Analysis – was a guest speaker at the university in Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan Province. “Yes, your theory is playing with national and religious emotions of the people, and defending non-existent shrines in Homs and Idlib. What shrines are there?”