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IRAN: Scholarship honoring slain protester Neda Agha-Soltan irks Iranian officials

November 10, 2009 |  2:55 pm


Iranian officials are up in arms over a decision by The Queen's College at the University of Oxford in Britain to establish a scholarship fund in memory of Neda Agha-Soltan, the 27-year-old Iranian woman whose videotaped June 20 death at the hands of an unknown gunman made her an international symbol of Iran's opposition movement. 

Iran's Embassy in Britain formally condemned the decision.  In a letter to the school's chancellor, the embassy called it a ploy to attract students. 

"It was a politically-motivated move," said the letter, cited in an article on the website of Iran's Press TV. "It seems that Oxford University is involved in a criminal case, which is still under investigation by the Iranian police."

Iranian officials have suggested her death was caused by foreign operatives seeking to sully the image of the Islamic Republic.

The embassy said the young woman's death took place "far from the scene of protests" after Iran's cataclysmic presidential elections and was a "complicated and planned" affair condemned by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

"The involvement of the university in Iran's internal affairs, particularly in the country's post-election events of which the British media played a leading role, would lead to the loss of the university's scientific prestige and academic goals," the letter said."This has nothing to do with the university's position and goals and will not help Iran and Britain improve their relations."

In a press announcement on its website, Oxford said it was "delighted" to honor Agha-Soltan, a onetime student of Islamic philosophy, thanks to "two generous gifts" from benefactors it does not name. 

"Oxford is increasingly losing out to its competitors in the race to recruit top graduate students," said Professor Paul Madden, the school's provost. "Donations such as those that have enabled us to create the Neda Agha-Soltan Scholarship are absolutely vital for us to continue to attract and retain the best young minds."

Though anyone is eligible for scholarship, which provides enough money to pay a graduate or undergraduate student's entire fees, preference is to be given to students of Iranian descent, said announcement. 

Arianne Shahvisi, a philosophy of physics student of Iranian background who is the scholarship's first recipient, called it a "great honor" to be granted the scholarship. "In accepting the scholarship, I extend my sincere condolences to the Agha-Soltan family, and hope that in succeeding in my studies at Oxford, I can do justice to the name of their brave and gifted daughter," she wrote, according to the website. 

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: A man in Hamburg, Germany, lights a candle by a photo of Neda Agha-Soltan, killed at a Tehran demonstration. Credit: Bodo Marks / EPA