October 15, 2007 VOLUME 41
E-ZAN VOICE OF WOMEN AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN IRAN
To our readers,
In his September visit to New York, Iran's brazen president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gave a new meaning to the word 'demagogue.' He shamelessly claimed that "in Iran [there] are genuine true freedoms. The Iranian people are free. Women in Iran enjoy the highest levels of freedoms." Back in Iran, however, students, women and other activists made sure this "petty and cruel dictator" doesn't get away with duplicity. Ahmadinejad's close allies also immediately went on the record to explain what he meant by "highest level of freedom" for women and have one's hear filled with love and "free from hatred." Few days after, Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University, Mohammad-Javad Larijani, Iran's Judiciary Chief Advisor and a die-hard ideologue within Ahmadinejad's inner circle, said, "Stoning is neither torture nor is it an improper punishment". Meanwhile, Iranian students had planned a protest in Tehran University where Ahmadinejad's was due to speak couple of days after his return to Iran. His office canceled the speech in the last minute. Just finishing a humiliating trip to United States, Ahmadinejad apparently was in no mood to take tough and substantive questions from students. With students bursting the Ahmadinejad's bubble as a "confident and assertive" individual who can answer any questions, his office re-scheduled his speech a week later. The audience, however, was hand-picked from a group of so-called students with absolute loyalty to him. Many others were plain-clothed security agents posing as students. Still hundreds of students with chants of "death to the dictator", and "fascist president, the university is no place for you".
E-Zan Featured Headlines
RFE/RL - September 16, 2007
In an unprecedented move, Iran's police have created
a dog "prison" in Tehran. The move is part of a crackdown on what officials
describe as immoral and un-Islamic behavior, during which thousands of young men
and women have been detained or received warnings about the way they are
dressed. Radio Farda reports that Tehran pet-owners are now also among those
under pressure from the authorities.In the past, dog owners have received
warnings or were forced to pay fines for having a pet dog. Despite such
harassment, dog ownership has increased over the years, especially among young
people in Tehran. One of them is 23-year-old Banafshe, whose dog was recently
detained in Tehran for 48 hours and then released on bail. Banafshe says she was
walking her young puppy, Jessica, when Iranian police snatched the dog and took
her to a dog "jail." The dog's crime was "walking in public." Banafshe claims
the police insulted her, but out of fear for her dog, she didn't protest. She
said she told the police that Allah says in the Koran that nothing bad has been
created in this world. "They said, 'We want to get rid of Western
culture,'" Banafshe said. "They said, 'You live in an Islamic country, it's not
right to have dogs. Are you not Islamic? Why does your family allow you to own a
dog?' They insulted me, they even told me that they hope my dog will die. But
there was nothing I could do but cry. You can't imagine how badly I was
Slashdot Website - September 17, 2007
"Iran has blocked access to the Google search engine and its Gmail email service as part of a clampdown on material deemed to be offensive. Hamid Shahriari, the secretary of Iran's National Council of Information did not explain why the sites were being blocked. Google, Gmail and several other foreign sites appeared to be inaccessible to Iranian users from Monday morning. Iran has tough censorship on cultural products and internet access, banning thousands of websites and blogs containing sexual and politically critical material as well as women's rights and social networking sites."
Voice of American - September 19, 2007
Iranian law institutionalizes discrimination against
women in a variety of ways. Under the law, women have fewer rights than men in
matters relating to marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and civil
compensation. An Iranian woman's testimony in court is worth half that of a
man's. The majority of university students in Iran are females, yet they are not
treated equally when they enter the workforce. In Iran, a woman must obtain a
male relative's permission to travel abroad. In Iran, women may not run for
president, nor are they allowed to be judges. And punishment for so-called
immoral behavior is meted out disproportionately to women in Iran. To change
these laws, a petition drive was started in 2006. The campaign was launched
after a series of peaceful demonstrations by women's rights activists were
violently broken up by Iranian security forces. The campaign relies on
volunteers to hand out pamphlets describing Iran's current laws and to offer
those interested a chance to sign the petition demanding changes. The goal is to
collect one million signatures.
NCR Website - September 30, 2007
Mohammad-Javad Larijani, the mullahs' Judiciary Chief Advisor and an ideologue within the clerical regime said, "Stoning is neither torture nor is it an improper punishment," the state-run news agency ISNA reported today. Admitting that there is no mention of stoning in "holy Quran" or in the teachings of the "prophet Mohammad's," Larijani said, "As long as it is [written] in our laws it would be proper to hand down such a penalty by the judges...It is obvious that stoning is a lesser sentence in comparison to hanging since the [victim] stands a chance of staying alive after stoning." Larijani a staunched supporter of inhuman punishments has previously said that the Chief of Judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi encouraged the sentence with slight reservation in "how it is implemented." At least eight women in the regime's prisons are waiting stoning.
Agence France Presse - October 2, 2007
A group of prominent MPs have called for the Italian clothing retailer Benetton to quit Iran, saying its fashions are a bad influence on female consumers, newspapers said on Monday. The reformist Etemad-e Melli said the five MPs -- four members of parliament's cultural commission and a member of its legal commission -- had issued their warning in a written protest to parliament. The protest came amid an ongoing crackdown by Iranian police on dress deemed to be un-Islamic, which has already seen warnings handed out to tens of thousands of women."The MPs on Sunday made a warning about preventing the influence of the Benetton investor in fashion and women's clothing design," the newspaper said.
The Los Angeles Times - October 9, 2007
Dozens of students opposed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's human rights record confronted the leader and his supporters Monday at the country's most prestigious university. The students, defying a broad government crackdown on dissent, accused Ahmadinejad of corruption and discrimination, and chanted, "Death to the dictator!" The president came to Tehran University to inaugurate the academic year, just two weeks after he was confronted by protests during a visit to Columbia University in New York. During his appearance Monday, Ahmadinejad was flanked by the head of the university and the minister of science. Black-shirted members of the Basiji, a hard-line pro-government militia, shouted in support of Ahmadinejad. "Our president, thank you, thank you!" they said. Ahmadinejad, widely criticized in the West for questioning the Holocaust and pursuing a nuclear program, cuts a divisive figure at home. His government has tolerated little dissent, arresting students, purging free-thinking professors and cracking down on young men and women wearing Western-style clothing. "You, Mr. Ahmadinejad, claimed at Columbia University that there is freedom of speech in Iran's universities," one student said over a megaphone. "Then why are three students still in jail?" Pro-Ahmadinejad students called the protesters sellouts and beholden to the United States. "Death to the hypocrites!" they shouted.
AHN News Agency - October 10, 2007
In another crackdown by government officials, Iranian police have warned some 122,000 people, many of them women, about breaking Islamic dress codes since April of this year. Another 7,000 people attended specific classes on respecting the rules enforced by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline government, which includes prohibiting certain types of Western-style haircuts and dress. The conservative newspaper, Jomhuri-ye Islami, reports that "Since the beginning of the crackdown from Ordibehesht (the Iranian month that started in April), 122,000 people have been given a warning for improper dress and 6,947 of them have taken part in guidance classes." In addition to requiring a woman's hair and body to be covered, the latest crackdown in Iran also extends to men. Under Ahmadinejad's increasingly repressive regime, barbers are restricted from offering Western-style haircuts, including spiked hair, plucking eyebrows, and any other styling considered to be the "immoral" influence of the West. Alcohol is also banned in the Islamic Republic, as well as any social gathering between both sexes. Under the law in Iran, men and women are not allowed to mix at close quarters in Iran, unless they are family members.
NCR Website - October 11, 2007
At a press conference in Parliament on the occasion
of World Day Against the Death Penalty, the MPs and Lords representing the
British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom said that the EU’s appeasement
policy with regards to the Tehran regime had emboldened the mullahs to violate
repeated UN Security Council resolutions over their clandestine nuclear work and
perpetrate waves of group executions as part of a clampdown on political
opposition in society unprecedented in recent history. Shocking footage of
police brutality and public executions in Iran which had recently been smuggled
out of Iran by supporters of the main Iranian Resistance group, the People’s
Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), were shown for the first time at the
meeting. “There are 600 political prisoners under threat of execution this
morning in Iran. One hundred and fifty fellow Parliamentarians and I expect and
demand from our Government and the UK’s representatives at the UN in New York to
draw attention to these executions”, Andrew MacKinlay MP (Labour, Thurrock) told
the conference. He described the mass execution of 30,000 PMOI members and
supporters by the regime in 1988 as “genocide”. “From torture to public
executions, the Iranian regime, even by its own brutal standards, has surpassed
itself in recent months”, said Brian Binley MP (Conservative, Northampton
South). He called on the Government to support the activities of the PMOI,
saying that the group’s sole aim was the creation of a “democratic and free
Iran”. Former Conservative Home Secretary Rt. Hon. Lord Waddington GCVO DL QC
told the meeting, “There is a need for fundamental change in Iran to rid us of a
regime which is a threat to world peace. … Removing the present restrictions on
the PMOI is essential for world peace”. “Women, who are suppressed in Iran, get
comfort in knowing they have a magnificent champion in Mrs. Rajavi. … Mrs.
Rajavi is a real champion of the people of Iran. We should give her all our
support”, Lord Waddington said. Henry Bellingham MP (Conservative, North West
Norfolk) said, “Demonstrations by students in Iran at a time when the regime is
executing opponents shows their courage and bravery”. He called for the PMOI’s
removal from the blacklist.
E-Zan Featured Reports
Voices that Tehran Fears
By Jeffrey Gedmin
The Washington Post
September 19, 2007
Our reporter Parnaz Azima finally made it out of Iran yesterday. Iranian authorities, who had blocked her exit from the country since January, returned her passport two weeks ago but then proceeded to create a series of bureaucratic obstacles that prevented her from returning to her family and colleagues. Azima, who has U.S. and Iranian dual citizenship, works for Radio Farda, the Persian-language broadcast service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the congressionally funded broadcasters based in Prague.
Azima is one of Iran's best-known literary translators. She is famous for her translations of Ernest Hemingway's works. In January she traveled to Tehran to visit her ailing 94-year-old mother and unwittingly became ensnared in a larger game being played by Iran's regime. Its aim is simple: to intimidate dissidents at home while pressuring the United States to refrain from supporting Iranian civil society.
Consider the way Tehran is attempting to put Radio Farda ("Farda" means tomorrow in Persian) in a bind. The Iranian government calls Farda a "counterrevolutionary radio station." In fact, Farda simply provides the Iranian people the news their government denies them. Our ratings remain high. The regime expends considerable effort trying to jam our signals and block access to our Web site. It's not hard to understand why.
This summer Farda provided in-depth reporting on Iranian protests over the regime's gas-rationing policies. Farda relied on stringers around the country for dozens of interviews with experts, officials and ordinary citizens. We provided first-rate, objective analysis from economists outside Iran. While there had been some opening in the media landscape under reformist president Mohammad Khatami, this process of liberalization was shut down by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he became president in 2005.
Today, government censors tell editors how they may cover "sensitive" stories. One may, for example, report on Iran's debate with the world community over Tehran's nuclear program. One may not, however, use the words "bomb" or "United Nations Security Council." Not surprisingly, news-hungry Iranians turn to Farda and Voice of America for accurate news and information.
Recently, Farda covered the arrests of members of Tehran's bus drivers union. Our broadcasters reported on the expulsion of Baha'i students from Iranian universities. This summer we analyzed the crackdown on women's dress code violations. Last week we featured a sad, bizarre story on "dog prisons" in Iran (clerical rulers view pet dogs as out of step with Islam); some police officers are apparently chafing under pressure to arrest kids walking their pets in parks. These social fissures are important. In a free society, independent media would feel obliged to cover them.
Our broadcasters and correspondents are brave to do what they do. Intelligence officers in Tehran interrogate and threaten family members of Farda staffers. This summer, a young journalist working for us was summoned by an Iranian court to face charges of conducting "activities against national security." Authorities have threatened to take possession of his aunt's house (in exchange for "bail" he "owes") should he not appear for trial. Another colleague expressed concern to me about activities of the Iranian Embassy in Prague. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Iranian regime moved hard against exiles, killing Iranian citizens in numerous European countries. Iran's foreign minister, when he was ambassador to Turkey in the late 1980s, was expelled when it was discovered that he was involved in nabbing Iranian dissidents. Such activities, unfortunately, do not seem to have stopped; Iranian authorities have discouraged Parnaz Azima from returning to Farda.
In this context, it can be disheartening to witness the endless bickering in Washington over how to help Iranian civil society. It is strange to hear the outcry from some who rail against the U.S. government's earmark of $75 million to aid the effort. That seems a paltry sum considering the importance and magnitude of the task at hand. Does the regime use this modest support as a pretext to crack down on dissidents? Of course it does. That's what dictators do. All of us are still waiting for those flawless and risk-free alternatives.
Our Farda team is hardly a monolith. Our roughly three dozen colleagues include social democrats, monarchists, passionate pro-Americans and ardent critics of the U.S. president and his policies. Our youngest employee is 23, the oldest 73. One thing unites this diverse group: the conviction that Iran deserves a decent, accountable government and a political system far freer and more tolerant than the current one. For some that sounds like the dirty words "regime change." That's a pity. I thought we all liked "soft power," especially after Iraq. Many of us think this work still represents America at its best.
The Writer is President of Radio Farda
Ahmadinejad Defends Iran's
By NAHAL TOOSI
September 24, 2007
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended his nation's human rights record on Monday as hundreds of people gathered outside the U.N. and Columbia University to protest appearances by the hard-line leader.
``People in Iran are very joyous, happy people,'' he told a National Press Club audience that questioned him about the arrests of students, journalists and women. ``They're very free in expressing what they think.''
He said women in Iran were ``the freest women in the world ... They're active in every level of society.''
Human rights activists inside and outside Iran have decried a recent wave of arrests of people calling for political and legal reforms of the Iranian theocratic system. Ahmadinejad said those complaints were baseless, and denied knowing about any detention or harsh punishments of reformists.
``The people who give this information should see what is the truth and disseminate what is correct,'' he said. ``I invite everyone in this session to come and visit Iran for themselves.''
Protesters gathered for a noon rally against Ahmadinejad at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the United Nations, where he is scheduled to address the General Assembly on Tuesday.
``I don't think he deserves a right to even be here in the United States,'' said Sam Morris, a senior at Yeshiva University High School, one of at least 500 students from Jewish day schools.
Scores of evangelical Christians of all ages holding blue-and-white signs that said, ``Christians United for Israel'' and ``Israel Is On The Map To Stay.''
Protesters also assembled at Columbia, where President Lee Bollinger has promised to grill Ahmadinejad on subjects such as human rights, the Holocaust and Iran's disputed nuclear program. The Iranian leader previously has called the Holocaust ``a myth'' and called for Israel to be ``wiped off the map.''
Bollinger said Monday it was a question of free speech and academic freedom.
``It's extremely important to know who the leaders are of countries that are your adversaries. To watch them to see how they think, to see how they reason or do not reason. To see whether they're fanatical, or to see whether they are sly,'' he told ABC's ``Good Morning America.''
Tensions are high between Washington and Tehran over U.S. accusations that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, as well as helping Shiite militias in Iraq that target U.S. troops - claims Iran denies.
Before leaving Iran, Ahmadinejad said the American people have been denied ``correct information,'' and his visit would give them a chance to hear a different voice, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Ahmadinejad has appealed to the American people before, distinguishing between the population and their government. Recently, he told a television show that Iran wants peace and friendship with America. Since coming to power in 2005, Ahmadinejad also has sent letters to the American people criticizing President Bush's Mideast policies.
Washington has said it is addressing the Iran situation diplomatically, rather than militarily, but U.S. officials also say that all options are open. The commander of the U.S. military forces in the Middle East said he did not believe tensions will lead to war.
``This constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful,'' Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, told Al-Jazeera television.
Ahmadinejad's scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly will be his third time attending the New York meeting in three years.
His request to lay a wreath at ground zero was denied by city officials and condemned by politicians who said a visit to the site of the 2001 terror attacks would violate sacred ground.
Police cited construction and security concerns in denying Ahmadinejad's request. Ahmadinejad told ``60 Minutes'' in an interview aired Sunday that he would not press the issue, but expressed disbelief that the visit would offend Americans.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, hundreds of young Iranians held a series of candlelight vigils in Tehran.
``Usually you go to these sites to pay your respects. And also to perhaps air your views about the root causes of such incidents,'' Ahmadinejad told the network.
Columbia canceled a planned visit by the Iranian president last year, also citing security and logistical reasons. This time, security on campus was tight hours ahead of his arrival, with barriers blanketing the grounds and police patrolling.
Just ahead of Ahmadinejad's speech, dozens of people stood linking arms and singing traditional Jewish folk songs about peace and brotherhood, while nearby two musicians played ``You Are My Sunshine.''
Ahmadinejad's visit to New York is also being debated back home. Some in Iran think his trip is a publicity stunt that hurts Iran's image in the world.
Iranian leader gets turbulent
reception at Columbia University
By Robin Wright and William Branigin
The Washington Post
September 24, 2005
Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad was greeted with student protests and withering public criticism
Monday during a visit to Columbia University.
Speaking to students and faculty at Columbia a day ahead of his scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly, the hard-line Iranian president defended his government’s human-rights record, denounced Israel and rejected U.S. efforts to restrict Iran’s nuclear program.
He also asserted that Iranians, including women, “enjoy the highest levels of freedom,” and he claimed that homosexuality does not exist in his country.
Before his speech, he came under unusually harsh criticism from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who condemned what he said was the Ahmadinejad government’s expanding crackdown on dissent, its persecution of the Bahai religious minority and homosexuals, its support for the destruction of Israel and its pursuit of a “proxy war” against U.S. forces in Iraq.
“Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” Bollinger told Ahmadinejad from a lectern across the stage. He said that the Iranian’s denial of the Holocaust might fool “the illiterate and ignorant” but that “when you come to a place like this, it makes you quite simply ridiculous.”
Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust suggests that he is either “brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated,” Bollinger said.
The university president’s caustic comments were met with cheers and sustained applause from the roughly 700 people in the audience, most of them students.
Ahmadinejad called the introductory speech insulting and said Bollinger was misinformed. But he went on to repeat his assertions that the Holocaust should be researched “from different perspectives,” and he denounced the punishment in Europe of “a number of academics” who were “questioning certain aspects of it.” He also said Palestinians should not be “paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with.”
In a question-and-answer session after an opening statement, Ahmadinejad was asked whether he or his government sought the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. He did not answer directly, instead calling for a “free referendum” in which Palestinians would “choose what they want for their future.”
Ahmadinejad was also asked about the reported execution of homosexuals in Iran. In a rambling reply translated simultaneously from Farsi to English, he talked about the freedom of Iranian women and defended capital punishment for drug traffickers.
Eventually, he drew laughter and jeers when he said: “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who told you that we have it.”
Before his appearance at Columbia, Ahmadinejad spoke by video conference to the National Press Club in Washington, denying reports of human-rights violations in Iran, defending his government’s nuclear program and condemning what he said were U.S. efforts to “manage the world.”
In response to questions, the Iranian leader asserted that “freedom is flowing at its highest level” in his country. “Our people are the freest people in the world, the most aware people in the world, the most enlightened,” he said. When asked about Iranian women, he said, “The freest women in the world are women in Iran.”
Ahmadinejad also denied that Iranian weapons were being smuggled into Iraq and professed support for stability there. “We want nothing but goodness and progress for the Iraqi nation,” he said.
Asked whether Iran would go to war to protect its nuclear program, Ahmadinejad insisted that its nuclear efforts were “legal and for peaceful purposes.” He said, “We think that talk of war is basically a propaganda tool.”
More women suffering in Iran
By Mehdi Mahdavi Azad
Times Herald Record
September 29, 2007
For several months now, Iranian police have been conducting a huge operation aimed at cracking down on women who are deemed to be violating the country's strict Islamic code. The enforcement is seen as the first step in a larger effort that some newspapers called the "Iron Fist" program, which aims to impose social order in Iran.
In addition to the crackdown on women, the police are also conducting highly publicized mass arrests of so-called thugs, those who allegedly harass women in the street, deal in drugs or trade in pornography.
The police are also staging late-night raids to round up suspected drug addicts and those accused of drinking alcohol. They have also shut down centers that smuggle banned music and films into the country.
The widespread nature of the crackdown, along with the aggressive tactics frequently used by police, has been criticized by reformists and human-rights advocates in the country.
Police for several months now have been monitoring women's appearances to ensure that their veils fully cover their hair, that their clothing is loose-fitting and they do not wear too much makeup.
Initially, the general public did not seem overly concerned by the crackdown on women's dress. After all, such crackdowns have occurred several times over the last 10 years. But the duration of the latest campaign, which began in April, and force being used by police has begun to alarm many.
According to official statistics published by the police, around 17,000 women have received warnings for not dressing conservatively at Tehran airport. Approximately 850 of those women have been temporarily detained.
Women who defy the dress code are first warned to dress more conservatively. In some cases, if women's skin and hair are not fully covered, they are detained and their families called to bring appropriate clothing. If the women violate the dress code again, they can be tried in court.
Iranian news agencies and Web sites show images of masked policemen beating suspected "thugs" while Iranian opposition satellite networks and Web sites based outside the country have broadcast footage, captured via mobile phones, of police roughly handling women not wearing conservative Islamic clothing.
The police have acted violently in front of the cameras — at the request of the police chief — to publicize the crackdown, contending that such strong-arm tactics will deter crime.
It's easy to see why the government launched its latest crackdown on those suspected of drug or alcohol use. The hard-line tactics are intended to appeal to those who support a tough, law-and-order approach to government.
It's less clear, however, as to what prompted the government's renewed interest in women's appearance.
On one hand, President Ahmadinejad's hard-line government, which made returning to Islamic values a key theme of its regime, has been under pressure from a section of Iran's traditional society that wants stricter enforcement of religious rules. On the other hand, the government is seriously concerned about its popularity among Iran's younger generation, who make up about 70 percent of the country's population. Young people generally do not support strict enforcement of the female dress code, or hijab.
Ahmadinejad had previously criticized a police plan to crack down on women who violate the Islamic dress code, fearing such a move could provoke widespread unrest. The crackdown never took place and Ahmadinejad was strongly criticized by hard-line newspapers at the time.
This year, Ahmadinejad has attempted to sidestep the issues by refusing to comment on the latest campaign.
Hardliners see the hijab as an ideological and security issue. According to them, the West wants to weaken the foundations of Iran in order to diminish its citizens' religious beliefs.
In their eyes, eliminating the Islamic dress code is one of the objectives of the enemies of the Islamic Republic.
Students Grab Spotlight with
Challenge to President
By Golnaz Esfandiari
EurasiaNet Partner Post from RFE/RL
September 14, 2007
A group of Iranian students
demonstrated this week against Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who was at
Tehran University to deliver a speech marking the opening of the academic year.
Student activists in Iran have faced growing government pressure in the past two years, including threats, detentions, and jail terms.
But the October 8 protest appears to signal limited success in silencing dissent at Iranian universities.
Iran’s largest pro-reform student group, the Office to Foster Unity ("Daftare Tahkim Vahdat"), claimed in a recent statement that 550 student activists have been sent to disciplinary committees, 43 student groups shut down, more than 130 student publications closed, and 70 members of the Office to Foster Unity jailed during Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s two-year presidency.
Ahmadinejad generally enjoys being in the spotlight. But the president kept a low profile around his speech at Tehran University, and students protesting against him grabbed media attention.
Some angry students shouted, "Death to the dictator," while others called Ahmadinejad a fascist and told him there was no room for him at the university.
Ahead of the speech, pro-reform student activists had challenged Ahmadinejad to meet them and answer their questions. They sought the meeting after Ahmadinejad spoke at a question-and-answer session at Columbia University in New York, where he faced tough questioning.
The Office to Foster Unity issued a list of 20 questions and called for a prompt and detailed response from Ahmadinejad. The list included questions about the detention of student activists, discrimination against women, and foreign policies issues like Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust, which the Office to Foster Unity says has damaged Iran.
The student group criticized a perceived clampdown on dissent at Iranian universities, asking Ahmadinejad "what freedom of speech means" to him and where it is possible to see the president’s recent claim in New York that freedom of speech is "incomparable" in Iran.
The letter pointed to Ahmadinejad’s invitation to U.S. President George W. Bush to give a speech in Iran and asked "how...the U.S. president [can] be allowed to give a speech at Iranian universities while critical Iranian scholars and students are banned from expressing their opinions."
Questions included a request for an explanation of the president’s "constant traveling and generosity to South American countries" and another accusing Ahmadinejad’s purportedly "wrong" policies of causing price increases. The group called on Ahmadinejad to meet with at least one of their representatives to discuss issues of concern.
The Iranian president avoided the student demands, and reports suggested that he delivered his speech to a small group of his supporters.
Some members of the Basij volunteer militia chanted slogans in support of Ahmadinejad and scuffles were reported between Basiji members and Ahmadinejad critics.
Iranian state media accused opposition groups of trying to create tension at the university with the help of U.S. and British media, adding that their plan had failed.
Mohammad Hashemi, an Office to Foster Unity leader, told Radio Farda that the protest was a response to a nationwide crackdown on universities and student activists.
"Those who are familiar with the university atmosphere in Iran know it is quite odd to be able to organize a student protest gathering at the start of the school year," Hashemi said. "The policies of officials at the Education Ministry and Ahmadinejad’s attitude toward universities and human rights in the past two years triggered these protests."
Hashemi added that the Iranian government views its opponents and critics as "enemies" and treats them as security threats.
In its letter, the Office to Foster Unity highlighted the cases of three Amirkabir University students -- Ehsan Mansuri, Majid Tavakoli, and Ahmad Ghasaban -- who have been in jail for the past five months over accusations that they defamed Islam in student publications.
The student group called the charges fabricated and said it thinks the students were detained in response to a demonstration against Ahmadinejad in December. In that incident, during a visit to Tehran’s Amirkabir University, students demonstrated against Ahmadinejad -- and some burned photographs of the president.
Following the more recent protest, Iranian officials said no one was arrested. But some observers are concerned that the protesters could eventually be targets for retaliation.
Hossein Bastani, a Paris-based journalist, warned in an article in the online daily "Rooz" on October 11 that students who protested against Ahmadinejad are "in danger." Bastani expressed concern about "each and every student" who chanted slogans against Ahmadinejad, adding that "he and his ;supporters are not the type to easily disregard such protests."
After the Amirkabir University protest, Ahmadinejad defended the rights of the demonstrators.
This time, the Iranian president has been silent about the rights of those who called him a "dictator" on October 8.
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Volume 41, October 15, 2007
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