Iran: Five Years After Protests, Release Students

 

 

(New York, July 8, 2004) -- Five years after the 1999 Tehran University protests, the Iranian government should immediately release all student detainees still imprisoned for peaceful dissent, Human Rights Watch said today.

 

The Iranian government's closure of a reformist newspaper triggered student protests on the Tehran University campus on July 8, 1999 (18th of Tir in the Iranian calendar). After a peaceful student demonstration, police and plainclothes security forces raided a dormitory, beating students and trapping many in their rooms. Protests then erupted beyond the university, growing to a weeklong event. More than 25,000 people eventually participated in the protests, making it the largest political demonstration since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

 

In the weeks following the protests, thousands of students were arrested, taken away by the busload, and held in detention centers and prisons. Initially, several students were sentenced to death, but these sentences were later commuted to time in prison.  While many of those initially detained were released, an unknown number of student protestors remain in prison.

 

"Five years after the Tehran University protests, it's time for the Iranian government to release the peaceful protestors," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division. "The government also needs to hold plainclothes militia accountable for the attacks on students that year."

 

On June 7, Human Rights Watch released "Like the Dead in Their Coffins," which documented extensive physical and psychological abuse of political detainees in Iranian prisons. A number of student protestors from the July 1999 protests remain in prison, including Ahmed Batebi, Abbas Fakhravar, Manouchehr Mohammadi, his brother Akbar Mohammadi and Mehrdad Lohrsabi.

 

Many of the imprisoned students have been brutally tortured in prison, barred from seeing their attorneys, and forced to provide recantations and confessions to the state-controlled media. Many students have suffered permanent physical and psychological injuries while in detention.

 

In subsequent years, students across the country have commemorated the anniversary of the July 1999 protestors with peaceful demonstrations and public speeches. This year, however, with repression at its highest since 1999, the government's message to students is clear: those who speak out will be detained, punished, and worse.

 

Ali Taala, the General Director of Security and Political Affairs at the Tehran governor's office, stated that the Interior Ministry has denied permits for any student events, saying, "We should try to forget the bad memories of the 18th of Tir." Tehran University has also been closed early.

 

"The Iranian government is trying to sweep the events of July 1999 under the rug," said Whitson. "Instead, it should allow peaceful commemoration of the Tehran University protests."

 

-----------

Please help support the research that made this bulletin possible. In order to protect our objectivity, Human Rights Watch does not accept funding from any government. We depend entirely on the generosity of people like you. To make a contribution, please visit http://hrw.org/donations/