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Iran: Authorities Target More Student Activists Ahead Of Elections

By Farangis Najibullah and Mohammad Zarghami

Universities in Tehran and other Iranian cities have reportedly taken "disciplinary measures" against some 60 student activists amid a crackdown ahead of parliamentary polls in March.

Meanwhile, at least 20 leftist students remain in Tehran's Evin prison after being arrested in December during protests on Iranian Student Day.

The punitive measures target around 60 students in several universities in Tehran, Mazandaran, Isfahan, Mashhad, and other cities, but student activists say they won't be cowed and vow to continue protests for democratic change.

Amin-e Nazari, the leader of the Association of Islamic Students in Hamadan University told Radio Farda that the most recent action involved four members of the association being suspended from the university, while six others have received an official warning.

Nazari said the students believe that authorities want to silence outspoken students who are critical the government's policies.

"As the [March 14 parliamentary] elections approach, the authorities want the groups who criticize them to stay silent, so that they can arrange an election show with the people," Nazari said.

'Rebel Students'

Salman Yazdanpanah, who calls himself as a pro-democracy student, has been temporarily expelled from Tehran University. Yazdanpanah told Radio Farda that the authorities accuse him of insulting the university personnel and taking part in unauthorized demonstrations.

Yazdanpanah said he has never insulted any university staff. "[I was punished] in connection with our activities at the university, in connection with the materials we wrote in our publication and for participating in demonstrations," Yazdanpanah said. "I wrote in my defense that not one university employee ever came and told me, 'Salman has insulted me.' These charges are false."

The disciplinary measures follow the arrest of at least 20 leftist students in Tehran and other cities in December. Most of them are still in Evin prison's notorious 209 section, where detainees are held in solitary confinement. Section 209 is solely controlled by Iran's Intelligence Ministry, and even Evin authorities are said to have no access to the section.

The security officials have reportedly called them "rebel students" and family members have been told that their children "had acted against national security."

However, the imprisoned students have not been officially charged. The students' parents and relatives have protested the arrests and asked the country's top leaders and the United Nations office in Tehran to help secure their release.

No Visitors Allowed

Despite promises from judiciary officials, the parents have not been allowed to meet with their arrested children.

According to Nasreen Abdullahi Musavi -- whose daughter, Ilnaz, is among those detained -- Evin authorities told parents this week that the imprisoned students "are still being interrogated" and that decisions about their cases would be made "very soon."

The leftist students, whose main slogan is "Freedom and Equality," initiated demonstrations at Tehran University in December to mark Student Day. Other groups soon joined, including students from Islamic schools, and the protests spread to other Iranian cities. Several students were arrested in provinces, but most of them have reportedly been released.

The demonstrators criticized President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government for cracking down on dissent on campuses and elsewhere, and they called for broader democratic changes -- such as freedom of political and social organizations -- and improved human rights.

Amin-e Nazari said the students' activities would continue despite the arrests and punishments by the authorities because "no one is afraid of disciplinary committees and prisons anymore."

"After all of those measures, have universities become quieter? Actually, the opposite is true. The university has become more decisive," Nazari said. "As one of my friends said, when they arrest or suspend our classmates, obviously we cannot remain silent."

Iranian journalist Iraj Jamsheedi told RFE/RL that the students' movements have gathered support among Iranian society "because their demands reflects those of the majority of the Iranian people."

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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