Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday voice doubts about the scale of the Holocaust, questioning the West's "red lines" on freedom of expression.
In a speech in the city of Mashhad Ali Khamenei said that In Europe, "no one dares to speak of the Holocaust, the crux of which is not clear if it is true, or if it were, how it was."
Reacting to the remarks, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder asked whether the world could trust the “charm offensive” Iran had launched last fall to try to improve ties with the West. “When countries are rushing to welcome back a supposedly more moderate Iran into the world community and to do business with it, they should remember, it is not a new Iran, but the same Iran with a new face,” Lauder said. “Ayatollah Khamenei's words are unmistakable: he denies the Holocaust happened. Iran needs to renounce Holocaust denial, extremism, and bigotry if the world is to have any faith in its conduct and intentions. Until then, the West needs to be very careful in in engaging with Tehran.”
Ali Khamenei has the ultimate say on a fundamental matters in Iranian politics. He has repeatedly called Nazi Germany's killing of six million Jews a "myth" and said the historical record has been distorted.
President Hassan Rouhani, a self-declared moderate, has adopted a softer line, going so far as to condemn "the massacre of the Jews by the Nazis." In February, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the Shah as a "cruel tragedy which should never happen again."
On Friday, in a speech marking the Persian New Year, Khamenei called for "resistance" in the face of a "cultural invasion" targeting the Islamic state's religious beliefs. "Expressing opinion about the Holocaust, or casting doubt on it, is one of the greatest sins in the West. They prevent this, arrest the doubters, try them while claiming to be a free country," he said. "They passionately defend their red lines ... how do they expect us to overlook our red lines that are based on our revolutionary and religious beliefs," he asked without elaborating.
Iran's human rights record and its limits on free expression are routinely criticized by international organizations and Western powers. Last week, UN chief Ban Ki-moon attacked Iran for an increase in executions, the detention of dissidents and discrimination against women.