Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who fell out of favor with Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei following disputes over civil rights, condemned the way the government handled the vandalism of pictures of the founder of the Islamic republic.
Opposition demonstrators during protests at Tehran University tore up pictures of the late ayatollah during National Students' Day.
Tehran used the episode as a way to denigrate the opposition movement. Montazeri, however, said the government instead was "defaming" the late leader, reports Radio Zamaneh, an independent Persian broadcaster in the Netherlands.
Montazeri in the wake of the violence that followed the contested June presidential elections in Iran told The Wall Street Journal that the unrest threatened to "uproot" the Iranian political philosophy.
In his latest comments, the grand ayatollah used the Khomeini row as an opportunity to advocate freedom of expression.
"Freedom means people should be free," he said, "not that the government is free to do anything and the people not allowed to say anything."