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12/3/02 - IRANIAN STUDENTS ARRESTED - 2002-12-05

Four Iranian students have been summoned by Iran’s hard-line judiciary to face charges of endangering national security. The students are Abdollah Momeni [ahb-d’l-LAH mo-meh-NEE], Saeed Razavi Faqih [sah-EED rah-zah-VEE fah-GHEE], Akbar Atri [AHK-bahr AH-tree], and Amir-Hossein Balali [ah-MEER ho-SAYN BAH-lah-lee]. They were detained on November 26th after leading peaceful demonstrations. But they were released the next day. At least some of the students were reported to have been beaten.

The demonstrations were the largest in three years. They were organized to protest a death sentence handed down to a University of Tehran professor. In a closed trial, Hashem Aghajari [hah-SHEM ah-gah-JAR-ee] was convicted of “insulting” Islam after he gave speeches saying that Iranians “should not blindly follow” religious leaders. He was sentenced to seventy-four lashes, eight years of internal exile, and then execution.

Since the November 6th court action, thousands of students have held peaceful demonstrations in Tehran and a number of other Iranian cities. On November 24th in Tehran, a large group of militiamen staged a counter-demonstration to denounce the students and voice their support for the extremist Muslim clerics who run Iran’s courts and other key government institutions. The militiamen also denounced the United States and Israel.

The sentence handed down to Professor Aghajari, and the detention of students who peacefully protested it, are but the latest in a long list of human rights abuses by Iran’s clerical regime. Iran’s rulers have been condemned by the United Nations for abuses that include arbitrary arrests, summary executions, disappearances, widespread use of torture, and unjust punishments such as stoning and flogging. The Iranian theocracy restricts freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and association.

In controlled presidential and parliamentary elections, the vast majority of the Iranian people have voted for candidates who said they supported political and economic reform. But Iran’s self-appointed clerical rulers have not listened to the people. Members of the ruling regime and their families continue to obstruct reform while reaping unfair benefits.

Clearly, as President George W. Bush has said, “the people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world. Their government should listen to their hopes.”