A former mayor of Tehran has been sentenced to a year in prison for criticizing Iran’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, according to a local news agency.
During a 2017 rally in support of President Hassan Rouhani, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, who was mayor of the country’s capital between 1990-1998, said: “Should we be proud of this religious fervor in the name of defending things like…the holy shrines [of Shia followers in Syria]?
“We also want to see peace in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. We want to defend the oppressed and strengthen the Shia populations there. But can we achieve that just by giving money and weapons and killing and pounding?” he said, according to a translation by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online agency reported that Karbaschi was tried at the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Isfahan for “propaganda against the system.”
He was also accused of “insulting martyrs” in Syria.
In 1998 the reformist Karbaschi was convicted of embezzling public funds and sentenced to two years in jail, in a trial largely seen as being politically motivated. He eventually served only eight months.
Ahead of his trial Karbaschi told CHRI the accusations were “absolute lies” meant to hurt Rouhani, who was then campaigning for reelection.
“In Iran, no one dares to affront martyrs and fighters,” he said. “What I meant was that the government should use diplomacy alongside other efforts, but they butchered my speech.”
Tehran has provided steady political, financial and military backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad as he has fought back a seven-year uprising.
The two countries have had strong ties for years. Iran has dispatched military forces to Syria but insists they are advisers, not fighters. Iran-backed militias, including the powerful Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, have also backed Assad’s troops in fighting on Syrian soil.
With help from Iranian militias and Russian warplanes, Assad has recaptured around two-thirds of the country and is now eyeing the northwest province of Idlib.
Israel has expressed concerns Iran is entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria. Israeli jets have carried out dozens of airstrikes on Iranian army installations in the war-torn country in recent months. Jerusalem has also been lobbying the US and Russia to seek a full withdrawal of Iranian troops from the country.
On Sunday, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami arrived in Syria for a two-day visit and met his Syrian counterpart Abdullah Ayoub.
He said it was agreed with Syria that Iran would have “presence, participation and assistance” in reconstruction of the nation “and no third party will be influential in this issue.”
AFP contributed to this report.