Monday 10 December 2007

Iranian Students Protest Over Arrests


Iranian students staged a new demonstration at Tehran University on Sunday, damaging the main gate to allow outsiders into the campus and denouncing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, news agencies reported. The protesters chanted slogans against the president and carried banners calling for the release of three fellow students who have been held since May in a high-profile case, the Fars news agency and state-run IRNA reported.

The reports did not disclose the number of students involved. Both news agencies said that the demonstration had been called by the radical wing of the Office to Foster Unity, a reformist student group.

"The students marched on the gate and damaged it, and this allowed several non-students to enter the campus," IRNA reported.

There has been a string of demonstrations at Tehran universities in past months as students protest against the replacement of liberal professors, pressure on activists by the authorities and the detention of three students.

The demonstration Sunday was at least the second within a week at Tehran University after dozens of students held a similar protest on Tuesday.

Mehdi Arabshahi, a member of the central board of the Office to Foster Unity, said that 1,500 people joined the latest protest, although there was no confirmation of this figure from Iranian media.

He told AFP that university security officials had initially shut the main gate in a bid to prevent large numbers gathering for the protest.

"But the students forced their way in and broke the gate so that others could enter.

"They protested against the detention of the students, the oppressive policies of the government and advocated rights for all Iranians," he added, saying that the participants included liberals and ethnic Kurds.

Arabshahi said the protest lasted for more than two hours after starting at 12:00 pm (0830 GMT) and that it was peaceful.

"We are gathered here to say students are alive and are critical of wrong polices," IRNA quoted another unnamed student as saying.

The demonstration came a day after the intelligence ministry said it had arrested an unspecified number of people using "fake student cards to hold an illegal demonstration" at Tehran University.

The timing of those arrests was not given, but it is likely that they took place ahead of Friday which was annual students' day in Iran.

The case of the three detained students from Tehran's Amir Kabir University has become a major issue for the protesting students.

Detained since May, the trio were given jail sentences of up to three years in October on charges of printing anti-Islamic images in four student newspapers -- accusations they vehemently deny.

Reformist leaders such as former president Mohammad Khatami have openly called for the three to be released, but hardliners have said the gravity of their crimes means they must stay behind bars.

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