Thursday, January 8, 2009

Police Attack Shiraz University Seminar after Days of Student Protests

On March 11, Iranian authorities released four students detained on the previous Sunday during the violent police attack. The detainees were held at the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Shiraz. Special Forces beat the students as they detained them, but during the detention they were not subjected to physical abuse.

Intelligence agents held the detainees in solitary confinement throughout the detention period. Twenty-four hours after their detention, the authorities formally charged the students with “acting against national security,” and “holding an assembly against the system.” During their detention, the detainees were deprived of any contact with their families and lawyers. Two hours before their release, officials contacted their families and asked them to post bail. The students continued their protest on Tuesday, March 11, which was the last day before universities closed for the coming New Year holidays on March 20.

UPDATE: (March 10, 2008) On Monday morning, more than 500 students at Shiraz University’s College of Medicine held a sit-in to protest the detention of eight of their colleagues on Sunday. BY Monday noon, the authorities released four of the detainees, Saadat Dolfani, Ali Hasani, Mojtaba Vakili, and Mohsen Fakhri who promptly joined the protest. The former detainees said they had been beaten and ill-treated during their detention. The authorities have not provided any information about the fate of the other four detainees.

Seven other students who reported to summonses were also detained. These students were detained last Thursday for a day, because of their participation in student protests. As of Monday evening they were still in custody. A total of 11 students remain in detention.

(March 10, 2008) Special Forces of the police violently attacked a planned seminar by university students in Shiraz and prevented organizers from holding the event on Sunday, March 9, 2008. They detained eight students.

The Islamic Students Association of Shiraz University and College of Medicine planned to hold the seminar to honor Nationalization of Oil Day. The authorities had issued a permit for the event and a number of notable invited speakers such as Davood Hermidas Bavand, Abdolali Bazargan, and Hasan Yusufi Eshkevari were due to speak.

“This is a flagrant violation of freedom of assembly. How can the Iranian authorities justify this violent action when they had issued a permit for the seminar? The police acted outside of the law and the perpetrators must be held accountable,” the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said.

Eyewitnesses told the Campaign that fully armed members of the Special Forces entered the seminar Hall on Neshat Street in Shiraz. They prevented speakers and audience members from entering the hall. Inside the hall, they beat the student organizers and detained six of them: Masood Kheirati, Mehdi Amirian, Saadat Dolfani, Ali Hasani, Mojtaba Vakili, and Mohsen Fakhri.

Two other students, Mohammad Mehdi Ahmadi and Nader Dinari, later approached the police forces to inquire about the detainees, and were also detained.

The police attack on Sunday follows two weeks of tensions at Shiraz University. Thousands of students held a sit-in from February 23 to March 5, 2008, to protest the university administration’s policies including interference in student elections. The sit-in is due to continue on Monday, March 10, if the students’ demands are not met. The students are also calling for resignation of the university chancellor, Mohammad Hadi Sadeghi, and for an end to what they describe as “the garrison mentality ruling student life on campus.”

The authorities detained 12 student leaders after they responded to summonses on March 6. After 20 hours of detention, the authorities released the students on bail, demanding they return on Monday, March 10. During the detention, officials exerted pressure on detainees to sign guarantees to call off the sit-in. The detainees refused to make any commitments. The names of nine of the detained students are: Kazim Rezaii, Abbas Rahmati, Hadi Asgari, Esmael Jalilvand, Loghman Modiri, Hamid Jonati, Mohsen Goharinia, Mojtaba Bakhshandeh, and Saeed Kooshki. The other two detained students did not wish to release their names.

The Campaign believes the violent attack on Sunday is designed to intimidate students from continuing their peaceful sit- in. The Campaign called on the Iranian government to respect freedom of assembly according to its international obligations.

The student protests erupted after months of harassment and interference by university officials in student elections. Last December, the administrators disqualified 108 student candidates for the Student Council. The Ninth Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz summoned editors of four student publications: Sahar Yazdani, managing editor of Ghasedak; Nahid Afrasiabi, managing editor of Rahgozar; Esmail Jalilvand, managing editor of Osyan; and Hamdollah Namjoo, managing editor of Matn. The mayor’s office in Shiraz and the Intelligence Ministry acted as plaintiffs in the case. The court prosecuted the students under the charge of “propaganda against the system.” It has not yet issued a ruling.

The University Disciplinary Committee also summoned the above four student editors on January 22, 2008. It summoned two other students, Iran Amani, managing editor of Khodam Boodam; and Mohammad Mehdi Ahmadi, managing editor of Seda in early February. Both students were barred from continuing their education for a period of six months.

The university administrators are also refusing to allow the current Student Council to finish its term in April. They have instead installed a parallel Council in its place.

The demands put forth by students are all related to university policies. The demands include: holding new elections for Student Council; ending restrictions in women’s dormitories and providing them with proper accommodations; hiring qualified professors; ending prosecutions of students in relation with the sit-in; and the resignation of the university chancellor for creating “a garrison atmosphere on campus.”

According to residents of Shiraz, the local population has expressed its strong support for the students’ demands. Several local residents told the Campaign that intelligence agents called at least 50 students’ parents, threatening them with further actions if they don’t prevent their children from participating in the sit-in. During the nine days of protests, as many as 3,000 students joined the sit-in on a daily basis.

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