Iran Urged to Release Students on Anniversary of Uprising
Tehran Keeps Lid on Student Solidarity Demonstrations
July 8, 2004
by Center for Religious Freedom
On the fifth anniversary of Iranian student protests, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, noting the absence of student solidarity marches in Tehran today, has called upon the government of Iran to free 40 people recently identified by the European Union as prisoners of conscience.
A European Union delegation met with Iranian officials in Tehran in mid-June and stressed that specific improvements in human rights are necessary to bring about closer ties between the EU and the Iranian government.
The EU delegation named 40 prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately, and reiterated concern over the destruction of the Baha'i holy site at Babol and the refusal of authorities to allow the dignified re-interment of remains contained there. The EU delegation also outlined a number of areas for reform, including: women’s rights; judicial independence; torture; capital punishment; amputations as punishment; media freedom; the electoral process; and, crucial in the Center’s view, religious freedom.
“Iran’s population is youthful, and they yearn for religious freedom from the tyranny of the ayatollahs. Most Iranians were not even born or have no memory of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Yet they are held hostage to that event,” said Center director Nina Shea. Shea added, “that we are not seeing the student protests of prior years on this day is another dismaying indicator that religious oppression from the Shiite hardliners in government—already at high levels—has tightened.”
In recent years, Iranian young people have openly demonstrated for their rights and for a change of regime. In 1999, scores of student demonstrators were injured, disappeared, killed, or arrested. Some are still being held in solitary cells known as “coffins.” The most celebrated of these, 25-year-old Ahmad Batebi, is serving a 10-year sentence and has reportedly been subjected to severe beatings and torture, including forced inhalation of excrement, practices which have seriously affected his eyesight and health. His original death sentence was revoked after international protests. Another 1999 demonstrator, Manuchahr Mohammadi, is serving a 13-year sentence. According to Amnesty International, 4000 people were arrested last year during student protests. At least one person was killed. Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian journalist, died later in detention from a blow to the head.
“Iran’s parliament now has a conservative majority after May elections barred most reformist candidates from running. Conservatives desperately want to prevent a liberalization movement fueled by young people that would undermine the current regime,” said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. “As a result, Iranian society finds itself today at a pivotal juncture. The will of the people is being repressively silenced by anti-democratic authorities, which only reinforces the need for greater pressure on Tehran to respect human rights and allow for greater freedoms.”
There is currently no evidence of the traditional annual student protests due to increased government efforts to prevent a nationwide rebellion.
“Whether they can hold back the youthful forces for change remains to be seen. Iranians, the majority of them under 25 years old, are tired of petty rules such as those governing female dress and gender apartheid. They also want freedom of religion in a country that not only imposes severe restrictions on non-Muslims, but also rigidly specifies what is acceptable Muslim practice,” added Ms. Shea.