By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East
NEW HAVEN, United States – On March 28, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a non-profit organization based in New Haven, Connecticut, released a report titled “Crushing the Reformist Students: A Commentary by Mehrangiz Kar.” In this report, Kar describes the institutions the conservative Iranian government employed to counter the reform movement amongst Iran’s student population.
Kar argues that during President Khatami’s term in office, the student movement played a crucial role in calling for reforms. To counter the reformist student movement, Iran’s conservative clerics established parallel student organizations, which were directly under the control of the Supreme Leader, Iran’s highest political and religious authority. Kar argues that these student organizations used violence to intimidate reformist student groups.
In the report Kar describes how these and similar institutions were used to suppress the academic freedom and the freedom of expression on university campuses. These institutions “subjected students arbitrarily to harsh punishments and expelled professors on trumped up charges.”
Recently, government suppression of free expression can be seen in the case of Babak Zamanian. On March 3, Zamanian was sentenced to one year imprisonment on charges of acting against national security. Zamanian’s lawyer, Behnam Daraiezadeh, stated that his client “was given the maximum sentence for acting against national security by propaganda against the system, which is punishable by three months to one year in jail.”
Zamanian is a student leader at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University of Technology, which is one of Iran’s leading universities. Amir Kabir is also a long-standing hotbed of student activism. In December 2006, Zamanian organized a protest against Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Hundreds of students chanted “Death to dictatorship!” and “Dictator, go home!” while holding upside-down posters of the hard-line president. The incident made international headlines.
While President Ahmadinejad publicly stated that he welcomed criticism and that he would not exact revenge, few believed him. Zamanian was arrested in April 2007 and sent to Section 209 of Evin Prison, the infamous solitary confinement block run by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
During his 40 day detention, Zamanian claims that he was subjected to various types of physical abuse. He stated that his interrogators wanted him to confess to trying to incite an uprising and corroborating with foreign governments to seek change in Iran.
In addition, three other Amir Kabir students, charged of publishing anti-Islamic images in reformist student newspapers, have been sentenced to jail terms of up to three years. Denying the charges, the three students allege that the images were planted in order to discredit them. The three were arrested in May 2007 and remain in jail. In recent months, several students have been arrested during demonstrations calling for their release.
For more information, please see:
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center – “Crushing the Reformist Students: A Commentary by Mehrangiz Kar” (in Farsi) – 28 March 2008
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center – Press Release: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center Releases Report: “Crushing the Reformist Students: A Commentary by Mehrangiz Kar” – 28 March 2008
AFP – Iran Student Activist Sentenced to Jail: Report – 3 March 2008
Los Angeles Times – Broken by Prison, for a Cause all but Lost – 23 December 2007