Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke out Tuesday against the weekend flogging of a student convicted of insulting him, saying other, more powerful people criticised him with impunity, a state information service said.
"Since influential people can freely defame us, I disapprove of flogging a young man for insulting the president," Ahmadinejad said during a meeting with regional governors, according to an official text message sent by the government information office.
Peyman Aref, a student activist close to an opposition group, received 74 lashes on Sunday before leaving the prison where he had served a year-long term.
He was sentenced in 2010 to one year in prison for political activities and to the whipping for insulting the president. He has also been banned from participating in any journalistic activities or membership in political parties.
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Aref said the flogging stemmed from a letter he had sent to Ahmadinejad.
"I just sent an open letter to the president to describe the catastrophic situation of universities. It did not bear any insults against him. I only said that I would never greet him," he told the opposition website Rahesabz.net.
Aref said the sentence and flogging were "illegal" and contradicted Ahmadinejad's assertions of tolerance in Iran.
"Every time Ahmadinejad goes to New York, he boasts of Iran as the world's most free country. But here, in my own country, I was whipped in the most savage manner possible for insulting him," Aref was quoted as saying.
Many students, political activists and journalists have been rounded up and handed down hefty jail sentences over the past two years, following a disputed 2009 election that secured a second term for Ahmadinejad.