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IRAN: Mass arrests of activists reported ahead of national Student Day

December 5, 2009 |  8:29 am


Fearing that student activists and anti-government protesters once again will take to the streets during a state-sponsored holiday, Iranian authorities are stepping up measures to prevent demonstrations from erupting Monday when Iran marks its National Student Day.

With activists planning to stage fresh rallies, scores of students have reportedly been arrested and suspended from their universities in the last month, including top student leader Milad Asadi.

He was detained in his home on Tuesday and subsequently suspended from his studies at Iran’s Khajenasir University, according to the rights group International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, or ICHRI.

A press release issued by the group says as many as 90 students have been detained in security sweeps over the last weeks in what the organization calls an attempt by the authorities to “decapitate the student movement."

"In order to silence the student movement, a wholesale crackdown on Iranian students is underway, which not only violates their rights, but also disrupts their studies and the lives of their families,” said Hadi Ghaemi, a spokesperson for ICHRI. 

Meanwhile, Tehran's Amir Kabir University said in its newsletter that 60 students had been arrested in the country in the last month, some of whom remain in jail. 

Students are not the only ones picked up in the recent wave of preemptive arrests against what authorities consider potential troublemakers.

The authorities have also targeted journalists in an apparent attempt to stop leaks to the public about recent student arrests, says ICHRI. 

On Monday, intelligence services detained Saeed Kalanki and Saeed Jalalifar, both reporters with the Committee of Human Rights Reporters.  

Tehran’s police chief Azizallah Rajabzadeh sent a personal message Wednesday to those student and opposition activists still planning to take to the streets Monday, warning them against illegal gatherings and any “instigation of unrest.”

“If there is insecurity in a place, the police will be present there to provide security,” the Iranian Students News Agency, or ISNA, quoted him as saying.

Rajabzadeh added that Monday should be commemorated as nothing else but “a day to fight arrogant powers."

Dec. 7, or 16 Azar in Iran, marks the day when students from Tehran University staged a protest against a visit by then-U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon in 1953, following the CIA-sponsored overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.

Three students, Ahmad Ghandchi, Azar Shariatrazavi, and Mostafa Bozorgnia, were shot dead by police at the demonstration.

But judging by the recent past, at least some protesters won't heed Rajabzadeh’s advice. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed victory in June's disputed presidential poll, opposition activists have used national holidays as a platform to stage protests.

Despite stern warnings by Iran’s Elite Revolutionary Guard, large crowds of Iranian opposition supporters poured into the streets on Nov. 4 for the commemoration of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, clashing with police and ending up stealing the show on what was supposed to be a state-sponsored anti-American holiday.

It didn't take many days after the event before green-colored fliers urging people to take to the streets on Dec. 7 started circulating on the Internet and the streets. 

Things seem also to be cooking inside some campuses. In one Iranian university, students putting on a play are spreading their message by inserting hidden references to the recent arrests of fellow students in their play.

Yet, activists fear that Monday could become violent, especially if the police choose to mobilize inside university campuses.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: Opposition supporters in the streets of Tehran on Nov. 4 during Iran's yearly commemoration of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Credit: Farhad Rajabali / For the Times