Iran General NewsBeating by guards fails to stop voting, Iranian students...

Beating by guards fails to stop voting, Iranian students say

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New York Times: Students at Amir Kabir University fended off club-wielding university security guards on Monday and went ahead with elections for a pro-democracy association. The New York Times

By NAZILA FATHI
Published: May 8, 2007

TEHRAN, May 7 — Students at Amir Kabir University fended off club-wielding university security guards on Monday and went ahead with elections for a pro-democracy association.

Despite the successful election at Amir Kabir, it is not clear that balloting for student associations will be allowed at other universities. The associations, a powerful center of support and communication among student democracy advocates, are a constant irritant to the government, which seeks to maintain strict control over politics and cultural norms.

The University of Science and Industry, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad taught before he was elected, has not been permitted to hold elections for the past two years. Students at Tehran University have vowed to hold a ballot, but have yet to do so.

Amir Kabir University has long been a center of student political activity. Students there chanted against Mr. Ahmadinejad when he visited the university late last year and set fire to posters bearing his likeness.

A student leader, Mehrdad Khalilpour, was arrested Monday by security officials, but two of his comrades managed to escape. Among other student leaders, Babak Zamanian was arrested late last month and Ahmad Ghassaban was arrested on Friday.

However, the student democracy advocates said they scored a victory on Monday when they managed to hold their annual elections.

“The students reached the conclusion that the only way was to resist,” said Ehsan Mansouri, a student leader who has been banned from attending classes. “The students guarded the ballot boxes as they were attacked and clubbed severely by the university security guards.”

Protests erupted last week after four student publications appeared with articles that offended religious sensibilities. Student advocates denounced the articles, saying the publications had been forged in an effort to frame the students.

Under Iran’s Islamic law, punishment for the offense, technically “insulting religious sanctities,” can be death. One of the articles had raised what were seen as offensive questions about the return of the 12th Imam — the messiah in Shiite Islam.

Conservatives protested last week inside and outside the university, calling for a second cultural revolution. Under the first, which followed the 1979 Islamic revolution, universities around the country were closed, and liberal students and professors were purged.

The pressure on student advocates seems to be part of a major social and political crackdown. Women and younger men have been the target of the vice police in the past two weeks, with officers patrolling the streets and cautioning or arresting people they accused of looking immodest.

A prominent art professor, Nureddin Zarrinkelk, was expelled from Tehran University last week after he commented about the beauty of a woman’s hair at one of his classes.

The police also started seizing satellite dishes last week. Because the dishes provide access to opposition television channels they are officially banned, but that does not stop large numbers of people from using them.

Reformist politicians, who were marginalized after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election two years ago, became alarmed last week when a former nuclear negotiator, Mohammad Hussein Moussavian, was arrested on espionage charges. To many here, the arrest seemed to signal a new crackdown on social freedoms.

“No one should be surprised if they stage another cultural revolution and shut down the universities,” said Saeed Leylaz, an economist and political commentator in Tehran. “The Islamic Republic has reached a stage that wants to suppress any kind of dissent, even if that means creating a police state.”

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