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12/19/02 - STUDENT DEMONSTRATIONS IN IRAN - 2002-12-19


Thousands of students have taken to the streets to call for an end to authoritarian rule in Iran. The protests began in November after the Tehran regime sentenced a university professor, Hashem Aghajari [hah-shem ahg-hah-jah-ree], to death for criticizing Iran's clerical regime. He called for "a progressive religion rather than a traditional religion that tramples on the people."

Protests were stepped up on December 7th, National Students Day in Iran. The protests were peaceful, until broken up by radical Islamists of the basiji [bah-see-jee] militia. About two-hundred people were arrested, a number of whom are still detained. Protesters were beaten by Ansar [ahn-shar] Hizbollah hoodlums, though regular security forces also used violence to break up protests.

The Iranian student demonstrators shouted "down with dictatorship" and called for a popular referendum on political reforms. And they demanded the release of all political prisoners. Several thousand Iranians outside the student community joined students in protests on December 7th and 8th.

On December 9th, a rally of more than two-thousand pro-reform students was broken up by hundreds of basiji militia. The militiamen have declared a so-called holy war against reformers. They reportedly smashed the locked gates of Amir Kabir University and attacked peaceful students. Police made no effort to stop the attacks.

The protests reflect the growing impatience of the people of Iran. They want genuine democracy, not a regime manipulated by reactionary clerics. Hard-line Islamists are a minority in Iran's parliament. But they control the police, the judiciary, and the Guardian Council. And no act of parliament can become law without the council's approval.

Results of recent elections demonstrated that the people of Iran want political reform and an end to repression. A poll found that nearly seventy-five percent of Iranians favored dialogue with the United States.

The demand for political reform is not only being made in the streets, but in the parliament as well. Rajabali Mazrouei [rah-jah-bah-lee mahz-roo-ee], leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, told fellow members of parliament: "If you believe people support you, then let's hold a referendum and allow people to determine [their] fate."

The U.S. stands with the people of Iran in their quest for freedom, civil liberties, prosperity, judicial due process, and the rule of law. Iranian officials are fully aware that these calls are genuine and come directly from the hearts of their own citizens. The U.S. looks to the Iranian government to be accountable to its people and respect their aspirations for freedom.

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