Wednesday, October 31, 2007


1 Million Sisters= U.S. feminists rally in support of women’s rights in Iran

1 Million Sisters
U.S. feminists rally in support of women’s rights in Iran

Ms. Magazine, Fall 2007, P. 18

ON AUGUST 27, IRANIAN feminists and advocates of women’s rights marked the first anniversary of the One MillionSignatures Demanding Change to Discriminatory Laws campaign in Iran. Iran’s conservative Islamist authorities refused to issue permits for public anniversary celebrations, yet women managed to organize a week of press conferences, art exhibitions and panel discussions at private houses, art galleries and the offices of a progressive journal.

A few days later, a victory for Iranian and U.S. feminists: Iranian American scholar Haleh Esfandiari was released from almost four months of solitary confinement in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. A scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and an expert on women’s issues in the Middle East, Esfandiari had gone to Iran to visit her elderly mother but was charged there with endangering Iranian national security.

It seems almost paradoxical that at a time when there’s growing U.S. government saber-rattling over Iran—and within Iran a paranoia against Western influence—that human and women’s-rights activists from both countries have joined forces. In fact, most Iranian feminists and advocates of human rights are saying no to both the internal Islamist patriarchy and the external Western militarism that pretends to be on the side of women’s rights.

U.S. feminists have been eager to lend support: The Feminist Majority Foundation, the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies have been among the groups that waged campaigns in support of Esfandiari. Now, the fire generated by her case can spread to other issues of concern for Iranian women.

The One Million Signatures campaign is the next stage of a new wave of feminist activism in the country, highlighted by street protests in 2005 and 2006—demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the Iranian police. But that isn’t enough to stop the women’s movement in Iran, which can be traced back over a hundred years. Women have made significant achievements since then, especially in education where they make up 65 percent of entering university students. But despite social and legal gains, Iran’s legal system—even at the most progressive points in the country’s history—has remained blatantly biased against women.

The inception of Iran’s Islamist regime in 1979 expanded the role of sharia (Islamic) law with a much more conservative and patriarchal interpretation. The focus of the One Million Signatures campaign is these discriminatory and oppressive laws, involving such things as divorce, child custody, inheritance, blood money (compensation for injury or death) and polygamy.

Despite continuous harassment and repression by conservative authorities, more than 1,000 volunteers have joined the effort in Iran, and the campaign has active branches in 15 provinces. The plan is to collect 1 million signatures within two years. Signatures from international supporters will not be counted toward the 1 million, but U.S. feminists can express their solidarity through the online international petition at:

U.S. women help our sisters in Iran by echoing their voices for human rights, justice and peace. Pressing the U.S. government toward peaceful diplomacy, rather than another war, will better serve the cause of women’s rights and democracy in Iran, the Middle East and here at home.


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Sunday, October 28, 2007


"Dollar Democracy" By Akbar Ganji

Iran and the West need to have friendly and peaceful relations. Presently, however, we face the threat of war. In order to prevent war, there are things that need to be done. Peace is a product of democracy. Despotic states are furtive and untrustworthy. The Iranian people want a secular, democratic state that is committed to freedom and human rights. If Iran had a democratic state, the West would no longer need to fear the Iranian government. Iran's current fundamentalist state is a dangerous state; but it is dangerous for its own people, not for the US. We need freedom, democracy and peace; not war conditions and the constant dreading of a barrage of destructive US missiles.

The seeds of democracy need fertile soil in order to grow. In Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the soil is fertile for fundamentalism. If free and fair elections were held in these countries fundamentalists would emerge victorious. Iran is the only country in the Middle East in which modern, democratic forces would win any free and fair elections. A transition to democracy through peaceful struggle is our current concern. But our problem is not that the Iranian regime suppresses civil society on the pretext of war, it is also that the regime describes all its opponents as US stooges and mercenaries.

There is a lot misunderstanding as to why Iranian pro-democracy forces oppose the $75 million US fund.
Allow me to clarify what we oppose and what we favour.

1. Any government's foreign policy is directed at fulfilling and safeguarding it national interests. Governments provide financial aid based on these interests and those who receive this kind of aid naturally have to align themselves with the donor's policies. We generally understand this point when it comes to Iranian government support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and various Afghan groups. The US government also provides assistance of this kind to various countries and groups. The Iranian people do not want their democratic movement to be dependent on or affiliated with any foreign government.

The US foreign policy in Asia and Africa is dictated by US political and economic interests, not by concern for spreading democracy. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and many other countries that have friendly ties with the US Administration are major violators of human rights and have despotic regimes. In these cases US Administration does not attach much importance to the violation of human rights and does not allocate budgets to make them democratic. Moreover, the people of the Middle East see US policy as biased in support of Israel and not as vehicle to spread democracy.

2. In the last two centuries many Iranian politicians were on the payroll of or influenced by foreign powers. As result Iranian intellectuals and pro-democracy activists are deeply critical of external support. When an Iranian receives money from a foreign government, he/she is shunned by the people and becomes discredited. In Iran, anyone who accepts external money is dubbed "a mercenary". If the US Administration is striving to give official recognition to Iranian democrats, it should be aware that any Iranian who asks the US dollars will not be “recognized" as a democrat by the Iranian people.

3. The Iranian regime uses the 75m-dollar US fund as an excuse to accuse all its opponents of drawing on this fund. Although this is a big lie, this ploy has proved to be a relatively effective way of poisoning the public's mind against the regime's opponents. One of the reasons for the staying power of the current regime is the general Iranian fear of foreign meddling.

4. What if the US were to allocate a 1bn-dollar fund to spread democracy in Iran? Would it be possible to create a democratic state in another country (Iran) with this sum? The people who think that they can make democracies with dollars should submit a bill for the allocation of funds for transforming all despotic regimes into democracies. If dollars could create democracies, why did the US Administration send so many troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and squander more than 500bn dollars?

5. Iran's democratic movement and civil institutions do need financial resources. But these resources must come from independent Iranian sources. If Iranians themselves do not support the transition to democracy, democracy cannot be presented to them like a gift. Expatriate Iranians have worked hard and have amassed a big fortunate (amounting to some 600bn to 800bn dollars). They can help their country's democratic movement and assist the transition to democracy by establishing a truly national and independent TV station.

6. Democracy has epistemic and social prerequisites. If these prerequisites exist, then it is up to brave, freedom-loving individuals to make the transition to democracy possible. Many of the social prerequisites of democracy exist in Iran today. But dollars cannot produce the brave, combative individuals who are prepared to pay the price of achieving democracy.

7. What has the 75m-dollar fund been spent on? Answer: on Radio Farda, VOA TV and US State Department activities. It makes no difference to us how much is allocated to these recipients. Even if a single dollar of this fund has been given to an Iranian group, why is this not publicized openly? In view of these facts, why is this fund described as a fund for supporting democracy in Iran? Why not call it a fund for Radio Farda, VOA TV and the State Department? This would also help dispel the idea that these media are trying to overthrow the Iranian regime. At the same time, does Congress feel no need to make a clear assessment of whether or not this fund has assisted the progress of democracy in Iran?

Here is our request. In order to do away with misunderstanding, approve a bill that totally bans the payment of any funds to Iranian opposition groups/individuals. The Iranian people's democratic movement does not need handouts from foreign governments; it needs the moral support of the international community and condemnation, by the world, of the Iranian regime for its extensive and systematic violation of human rights. The United Nations' ineffective Human Rights Council must also be made effective.

What does the pro-democracy movement favour? The Iranian regime has closed down all independent media and is preventing the people from hearing any democratic voices. The Iranian government is using modern technology, which it has purchased from Western companies, to block websites and to make it almost impossible for Iranians to use the Internet. The West has profited at the Iranian people's expense by selling this technology to the Iranian government. The Iranian regime's extensive censorship and media hegemony must be ruptured. If the Iranian people can learn about events via a 24-hour TV and have effective access to the Internet; and if they can hear and read open criticism of the regime's policies and learn about alternative models of government, the regime will be forced to abandon its security-censorship apparatus. Giving funds to the opposition is one thing; allowing Iranians to have access to foreign media and accurate information is another thing altogether.

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Road transport workers demand freedom for Iranian trade unionist

25 October 2007
Road transport workers around the world last week pledged solidarity with Iranian trade union leader Mansour Osanloo who remains in detention in Iran.
As part of the ITF’s international road transport action week held from 15-21 October, unions participated in the ITF’s “Free Osanloo” badge campaign. The campaign symbolises the repression against Mansour Osanloo and other Iranian trade unionists – including Ebrahim Madadi and Mahmoud Salehi, both of whom are also in prison.
Actions included: a lobby by 10,000 Norwegian workers who wore the Free Osanloo badge to work; a protest rally in front of the Iranian embassy in Brussels, Belgium, involving 200 European trade unionists; and the presentation of a protest letter to the Iranian ambassador by a Central American union delegation attending a meeting of the ITF and the Danish trade union 3F in Managua, Nicaragua.
In Australia, unions organised press conferences expressing support for Iranian workers, while in Seoul, Korea, activists from two road transport unions distributed badges and leaflets to bus and taxi drivers. Workers in Morocco also signed a protest letter addressed to the Iranian President.
Earlier this week, the ITF received reports that Mansour Osanloo had received emergency eye treatment on Saturday. This step followed protests from the union movement and human rights organisation Amnesty International about prisoners being denied medical treatment and was welcomed by the ITF.

ITF Inland Transport Section Secretary Mac Urata commented: “It was the collective efforts of the ITF, the International Trade Union Confederation, unions and Amnesty International that led to Mansour having his eye surgery.”

“The action week is over but we would certainly like to see union members continuing to wear the Free Osanloo badge at their workplace.”

Last week, the ITF released its promotional video, "Freedom will come - the story of Mansour Osanloo". It is can also be viewed on Youtube and will soon be available in DVD format.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007


RSF:Journalist subjected to mental and physical mistreatment since arrest 10 days ago

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the conditions in which journalist Emadoldin Baghi has been held since his arrest 10 days ago. Facing new charges of “propaganda against the government” and “publishing secret government documents,” he has been subjected to mental and physical mistreatment.

“The Iranian authorities stop at nothing in their hounding of Baghi,” the press freedom organisation said. “Held on trumped-up charges for unclear reasons, Baghi is being subjected to interrogations of an unacceptable nature. Iran continually violates the rights of its detainees, subjecting them to mistreatment with the sole aim of extracting confessions.”

Baghi was arrested on 14 October to serve a one-year sentence he was given in November 2004 for writing a book that accused the Iranian authorities of involvement in the murders of intellectuals and journalists in 1998. But new charges have been brought against him in a new trial.

After an initial hearing, he was transferred to section 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison and placed in solitary confinement. Thereafter, he has been interrogated while blindfolded and with his wrists bound, although this practice that is expressly forbidden in Iran. He was taken before the 1st chamber of the Tehran revolutionary court again on 22 October without his lawyers being notified. Iranian journalists have in the past been forced to make false confession, sometimes publicly, after being subjected to repeated intimidation.

Baghi has a long history of arrests and trials. He first went to prison in 2000, when he was given a three-year sentence for “attacking national security.” Then he got the one-year sentence in November 2004. And he recently received another three-year sentence for “activities against national security” and “publicity in favour of the regime’s opponents.”

As an active campaigner against the death penalty, Baghi was awarded the French Republic’s Human Rights Prize in 2005 by France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.
Iran continues to be the Middle East’s biggest prison for the media, with a total of nine journalists detained.

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Friday, October 19, 2007


URI Letter to Director General of ILO

United Republicans of Iran
For a Democratic and Secular Republic

October 18, 2007

Mr. Juan Somavia
Director General
International Labor Organization
4 route des Morillons
CH-1211 Genève 22, Switzerland

Dear Mr. Somavia,
I am writing to bring to your attention an issue that is of grave concern to us at the United Republicans of Iran and that is the life and health of a labour leader in Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an oppressive regime, based on religious, gender, and ethnic discriminations in one hand, and denial of all independent organizations and associations on the other hand. Our organization believes that the democratic goals in Iran can be achieved by
independent civil society movements, such as labor movement, using peaceful means.

Confronted with these movements, The Islamic Republic of Iran has chosen to arrest the leaders and subject them to harsh inhuman treatment in prison. Indeed, at this very moment, Mr. Mansour Osanloo, President of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed) is in prison in danger of loosing his eyesight.

The first thing one notices when visiting your web site is this paragraph: “In promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, the organization continues to pursue its founding mission that labour peace is essential to prosperity. Today, the ILO helps advance the creation of decent jobs and the kinds of economic and working conditions that give working people and business people a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress.” And it describes it self as “the tripartite UN agency that brings together governments, employers and
workers of its member states in common action to promote decent work throughout the world.”

The Islamic Republic of Iran, as a member of this body is obligated to adhere and follow the rules and regulations as are mandated by ILO charter.

Yet In a statement released by the International Transport Worker’s Federation on 16 October 2007, they write: “Despite government promises Osanloo has not received the emergency treatment that he desperately needs to treat injuries to his eyes sustained when he was assaulted by government security forces two years ago – even though the prison doctor
has admitted that if he is not treated within the next two weeks he could go blind.” They have also created a video concerning Osanlou which I urge you to see.

This video can be seen by visiting:
I urge you to take every step at your disposal to gain the freedom of Mansour Osanloo and other detained workers in Iran.

With respect,
Mehdi Amini
International Relations Coordinator, USA

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Iran: Amnesty International condemns new wave of executions

Amnesty International today expressed alarm at the new wave of executions in Iran and said that it has already recorded almost 250 executions since the beginning of 2007, although the true total of those put to death could be significantly higher.

The victims of the latest executions include a woman who was apparently convicted for a murder which took place as she sought to protect herself from an attempted rape, and one or possibly three child offenders.

On Wednesday 17 October alone, at least nine people were executed in Tehran’s Evin Prison, all of them convicted of murder, and at least another three in Shiraz, who were convicted for the kidnapping and rape of two women. On 10 October, two Iranian Kurds were hanged in Sanandaj Prison for the murder of a security official, which took place in January 2007.

With the executions in Sanandaj, Shiraz and Tehran, Amnesty International has, to date, recorded 244 executions in the course of 2007, although the organisation fears that the true figure could be significantly higher.

The execution of at least nine people in Tehran’s Evin Prison included Fakhteh S, a 24 year old, who was sentenced to death for the murder of a man, aged 80, at his house. Fakhteh S reportedly worked as a caretaker at the man’s residence and was found by the court to have stolen some of his property. She alleged that he was trying to rape her when she stabbed him. She was hanged inside Evin Prison at 5:30 on the morning of 17 October 2007.

Babak, 23, was sentenced to death for the murder by suffocation of his room-mate, which took place on 12 January 2002. It is unclear whether he was under 18 years of age at the time, or if either of two others convicted in the same case were under 18; if so, they were the latest child offenders to have been executed in Iran in violation of international standards prohibiting the use of the death penalty for persons who commit crimes while under 18.

Amnesty is gravely concerned at reports that six members of Iran’s Arab minority are also at risk of imminent execution. According to their families, Rasool ‘Ali Mezrea’, 65, Hamza Sawari, 20, Zamel Bawi, ‘Abdul-Imam Za’eri, Nazem Bureihi and Ahmad Marmazi, 35, all held in Karoun Prison, Khuzestan, have been moved to a cell reserved for those soon to be executed.

Rasool ‘Ali Mezrea’ is a member of the Ahwazi Liberation Organization (ALO) and is recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and had been accepted for resettlement in a third country, but was forcibly returned to Iran from Syria on 16 May 2006.

Hamza Sawari, Zamel Bawi, ‘Abdul-Imam Za’eri and Nazem Bureihi had their death sentences confirmed on 10 June 2006 by Branch 3 of the Revolutionary Court in Ahwaz, Khuzestan. At the end of July 2006 the Supreme Court upheld the sentences of Abdul-Imam Za’eri and Nazem Bureihi.

The five men have reportedly been accused of being “mohareb” (at enmity with God) which can carry the death penalty. Other charges include “destabilising the country,” “attempting to overthrow the government,” “possession of home made bombs,” “sabotage of oil installations,” and carrying out bombings in Ahvaz, which took place between June and October 2005 and caused the deaths of at least six people and wounded more than a hundred others.

Nazem Bureihi has reportedly been in custody since 2000 having been arrested on charges of “insurgency”. Though he was serving a 35 year prison sentence, he was among nine men shown on Khuzestan Provincial television on 1 March 2006, “confessing” to involvement in the October 2005 bombings.

Zamel Bawi was reportedly convicted of hiding seven home-made time bombs, which he allegedly defused before his arrest.

Amnesty International recognizes the right and responsibility of governments to bring to justice those suspected of criminal offences, but opposes the death penalty as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The organisation is calling on the Iranian authorities to commute all death sentences with a view to establishing a moratorium.

In view of the irreversible nature of the death penalty, the organisation is once again urging Iran’s judiciary to review all cases of those sentenced to death to ensure that the all international standards protecting the right to a fair trial were scrupulously observed in these cases.

In light of Amnesty International’s long-standing concerns relating to the administration of justice in Iran, the organisation urges the judicial authorities to ensure that all safeguards and due process guarantees set out in international standards applicable during pre-trial, trial and appellate stages must be fully respected.

Amnesty International reminds the Iranian authorities that Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party, states that the sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime, and that this means that crimes punishable by death should not go beyond intentional crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences and that all mitigating factors must be taken into account.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007


The Student Movement’s Struggle

By: Ali Afshari and H. Graham Underwood

Ali Afshari served as secretary of the Islamic Student Association at Iran’s Amir Kabir University for three years and as a member of the Central committee of the Office for Consolidating Unity (Daftar Takhime Vahdat) for five years. He spent more than three years in jail, including 328 consecutive days in solitary confinement, for his activism on behalf of democracy. H. Graham Underwood is a freelance writer and researcher specializing in Iranian affairs.

Walking the streets of downtown Tehran during election season, one sees a striking picture. Rushing under and past the prominent murals and election posters featuring ayatollahs and other clerics with long gray beards and turbans is a teeming young populace that bears little resemblance, and feels little connection, to these figures. The revolutionary fervor that gripped Iran after the toppling of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s monarchical dictatorship almost three decades ago has subsided, and the spirit of the Islamic Revolution, particularly among Iran’s
youth, has given way to feelings of restlessness, disenchantment, and even defiance. But will the regime’s lack of legitimacy and young Iranians’ disaffection be enough to bring about democratic change? Does the disaffection have a political vehicle or even much political content?

Theoretically, political parties could represent a generation of frustrated and alienated youth, but Iran has almost no real, established parties. Alliances form just before elections only to dissolve soon after, and those with enough staying power to be even loosely called parties tend to be hidebound and lack meaningful ties to civil society. Tying these feelings of youthful rebellion to the cause of political change will require the rise of a stronger, more organized, and more representative democracy movement that encompasses all elements of Iranian civil society. One way such a movement might come into being is through the Iranian student movement, which historically has been at the forefront of opposition politics and has a natural connection to young people.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini urged Iranians to bear more children, his “soldiers for Islam,” in order to strengthen the fledgling Islamic Republic. Pronatalism continued through the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988, when Iran lost more than half a million of its young men. With help from such policies, Iran’s population has nearly doubled since 1979, with official figures now placing it at just over 70 million.

Through a comprehensive family-planning program started in the late 1980s, Iran has managed to tame its population surge and achieve sustainable birth rates, but the high population-growth rates of recent decades have left the country with a population that “skews young.” Iranians under 30 now number 48.6 million, or 70 percent of the total population, and the median age is approximately 26 years.1 As these “children of the Revolution” (who are too young personally to remember the Revolution) have begun to come of age and to enter the ever-crowded workforce, the regime is finding itself increasingly hard-pressed to cope with a demographic problem that its own former policies helped to feed.

This demographic shift toward youth, coupled with economic pressures and a growing desire for modernity, has given rise to a cohort of Iranians under the age of thirty who continually test the limits of the totalitarian state under which they live. Although not avowedly political, young people are increasingly frustrated by the state’s efforts to control their lives, and their feelings of discontent and resentment toward the regime suggest the limits of authoritarian legitimacy and hence may be read as boding well for the future of democracy in Iran.

Iran’s Youth

Before discussing the student movement, it is important to examine and identify the emerging youth population. Roughly speaking, each of the past four decades has seen the rise of a somewhat distinct generation tied to a particular set of formative experiences and events. First, there was the revolutionary generation, born in the 1960s, who lived through the turmoil of the Pahlavi monarchy’s collapse and the rise of Khomeini and Shi’ite clerical rule. Second, there is the wartime generation, brought up during the bloody 1980s and the difficult period of reconstruction that followed. Third, there is the reformist generation that came of age amid hopes for “reform from within” roused by the two-term presidency of the putatively liberal cleric Mohammad Khatami (r. 1997–2005). Many of Khatami’s youthful voters (the age of suffrage in Iran was only 15 until it was raised to 18 in January 2007) have yet to reach their thirtieth year.

There is also a fourth, emerging generation—perhaps it should be called the postreformist generation, or even the nuclear generation—that makes up the rest of Iran’s massive younger population. Unlike earlier generations, today’s youth have no memories of the shah, and little or
no direct recollection of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Indeed, almost 48 million Iranians alive today—more than two-thirds of the population— had not been born at the time of the Revolution. For many, the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is something that they hear about from older relatives or read about in books—only a relative few have any personal memory of the costly conflict that consumed most of the 1980s and cost hundreds of thousands of Iranians their lives. The under-30 generation knows current Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s autocracy better than his predecessor Khomeini’s revolutionary zeal, and is more acquainted with the nuclear crisis of today than the U.S.-hostages crisis of decades ago.

While one must be careful not to treat an enormous body such as Iran’s under-30 population as a monolith—especially given the lack of independent survey data—all accounts agree that the values of the young stand in stark contrast to those of their elders. Generally speaking, the generation that made the Revolution was extremely ideological and anti-Western
(particularly anti-American); spoke of self-sacrifice for the sake of the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary project and its spread throughout the Muslim world; and, after the shah’s forced Westernization, was concerned more with public than with private life. With some exceptions, young people today are essentially nonideological; favor normal relations with the international community, particularly with the West and the United States; seek pluralism in both politics and culture; care more about private than public matters; and are more concerned with fitting into a rapidly changing world than with transforming it. More specifically, the differences between today’s youth and those who grew up in the heyday of the Revolution can be seen in two main areas: culture and religion.

Culturally, Iranian youth are increasingly shunning traditional norms and constantly testing the country’s restrictive laws. Western music can be heard blaring from car stereos or wafting from private house parties, and Western-style musical groups—including Persian-language rappers—enjoy sizeable followings. Far fewer marital engagements are arranged by families, as young people are finding ways to date by escaping to coffee houses and parks, and are eventually marrying at a much older age than past generations. Presently, the average age of marriage
for women is 27.9 years, compared to 23 years a decade ago.2 Clothing fashions grow ever more audacious. In big cities such as Tehran (though not only there), most young women prefer a bright and often form-fitting roopoosh (overcoat) to a loose, dark-colored chador. They wear
patterned headscarves pushed back to expose as much hair as possible, and body-hugging jeans with the legs daringly rolled up. The amount of makeup and plastic surgery now seen on the streets of Tehran would shock even a Hollywood denizen. Women routinely have their lips or
eyebrows tattooed, and proudly sport bandages from rhinoplasty, so much so that some wags now call Iran “Nose-job Nation.”

Although laws regarding dress are more restrictive for women than for men, young men are also flouting Islamic appearance codes. Defying older norms, they increasingly wear their hair long and in complex, intricately gelled styles that look like something from a 1950s “greaser” movie. Indeed, the regime’s annual springtime crackdown on “un-Islamic” dress has come to target men as well as women. Police may shout Dastaa baalaa! (“Hands up!”) at a young man; if his stomach shows when he reaches for the sky he may be interrogated or fined for wearing his shirt too short. A university in the northwestern city of Shiraz went as far as to prohibit men from wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts, an act that sparked student protests until the ban was overturned.

New technologies ease cultural change. An estimated 73 percent of youth have access to satellite-television dishes3 that bring them news from sources other than state-sanctioned outlets, as well as Western movies deemed unfit for Iranian movie theaters. Personal wireless devices allow hard-to-monitor electronic communications, and creative ways around Internet filters give access to foreign media and forbidden websites. Iran has become one of the most computer-savvy nations in the broader Middle East, and its people boast the region’s highest proportion of Internet users (38.6 percent). Teenagers and college students pack Internet cafes to communicate with their friends via e-mail or instant messaging, and to read and write endless Web logs (“blogs”) about all aspects of their lives. According to estimates, Iran in 2006 was
the home base for somewhere between seventy and a hundred thousand blogs; only eight other countries had more. Farsi has become the tenth most prevalent language in the blogosphere, and the popular Blogfa domain name reports nearly two million visitors per day.4

Religion, the hallmark of the Islamic Revolution, is another line of demarcation between those under thirty and their elders. By most accounts, present-day Iranian youth treat religion differently than do their elders. Fewer than 3 percent attend Friday prayers,5 and those who are religious prefer to treat their beliefs as private. Many young people consider themselves casual or nonpracticing Muslims, and see no contradiction between dating, or even engaging in premarital sex, and still believing in God.

In many ways, the youth have forged a way to reconcile modernity and their changing cultural preferences with the traditionalist interpretation of Shi’ite Islam espoused by the state. For example, the religious festival of Ashura, a somber day of mourning for the martyred Imam
Hussein (d. 680 C.E.), has now become an occasion for “Hussein parties” where young people dress up (though still in dark colors) and seek to mingle with members of the opposite sex. Some even bring dates to what has traditionally been a highly solemn observance.

On their own, these cultural and religious changes among Iran’s youth would be enough to worry the regime. What makes them even more troubling is their occurrence amid a sagging economy that has hit the young especially hard, and which has spawned social problems that threaten the very foundations of the Islamic Republic. Younger Iranians are highly educated, with postsecondary enrollment now at about two million. Often, however, people with bachelor’s and even graduate or professional degrees can find no job commensurate with their skills.
Many are jobless altogether. Even physicians are unemployed—currently about ten thousand of them.

In a 2006 survey by the state-run National Youth Organization, young people cited joblessness as one of the main problems they face in their lives. In 2005, there were approximately ten million young people of working age (that is, people between the ages of 15 and 29), and according to official numbers, a 34 percent unemployment rate among this group.6 This is higher than both the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs official overall unemployment rate of 12.5 percent and unofficial estimates that run close to 25 percent.7 Despite the decrease in the population-growth rate to its current manageable level of 1.61 percent per year,8 there simply are not enough jobs being created for the burgeoning youth population. Iran needs a million new jobs each year to employ the new entrants into its labor force, but the economy is managing to create only 300,000 annually. President Ahmedinejad’s reckless fiscal policies, coupled with increasing international isolation and economic sanctions, have significantly worsened this problem.

Drug addiction, prostitution, and human trafficking are additional ills that disproportionately harm young people. The most recent official figures peg the number of addicts at 2.5 million and recreational users at 1.5 million. Previous estimates by the Iranian National Center for Addiction
Studies put the total number of addicts at 7 million. Among the youth, official studies claim the share of addicts to be 2 percent among high-school students, 3 percent among university students, 17 percent among those aged 20 to 24, and 23 percent for those between 25 and 29. That these numbers increase as one gets closer to the prime age brackets for entering and establishing oneself in the labor force may be another token of economic despair and the sense that the Islamic Republic is badly failing its citizens.

Exact numbers for prostitution are difficult to come by, as the subject is taboo in the Islamic Republic, but it is estimated that Iran has 300,000 prostitutes, most of whom are between the ages of 14 and 25. Human sex trafficking has also become all too common. During the past year, an estimated 100,000 young women were trafficked to neighboring states, most commonly Dubai, Turkey, and Pakistan.9

Disaffection and Democracy

What, then, does all this have to do with democracy? Just because someone listens to Western music, avoids mosque attendance, and complains about bleak job prospects does not automatically make that person a democrat. Indeed, Iran’s postreformist generation has been charged with being more apathetic and selfish than its predecessors, concerned only with personal comfort and not with the overall well-being of society. Yet in a country such as Iran, what in other countries might pass for typical acts of aimless youthful rebellion unavoidably take on a political cast. A girl wearing a loose-fitting headscarf or a boy listening to underground Persian rap may not be consciously trying to make a political statement. But in a totalitarian country where the regime seeks to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives and interprets any hint of Western influence as pernicious, these acts become a de facto form of political opposition.

There is no question that the regime sees things this way. In the first two months after the announced crackdown on “un-Islamic” dress began in March 2007, more than 67,000 girls were given warnings, and almost 15,000 were interrogated and jailed for short stretches.10 Satellite dishes have been confiscated in huge numbers, and the state has cut Internet bandwidth in order to thwart censorship-avoiding technologies such as instant messengers or the Skype web-based phone service. There has even been a clampdown on underground music that resulted in the arrest of six popular Iranian rappers.

The fear that de facto acts of resistance such as ignoring the dress code inspires in the regime appears to be compounded by its awareness that many young Iranians remember the relatively reformist era of Khatami, under whom they became used to a measure of cultural and
political openness. The hard-won freedoms gained under Khatami’s administration threaten Ahmedinejad’s conservative government, which is taking great pains to curb them. Yet youth is not willing easily to give up these liberties, which it sees as rights rather than privileges. There is
certainly a degree of uninterest in formal politics among Iran’s youth, perhaps in no small part because those groups which pass for political parties have so little connection with civil society generally and youth especially. The average age of those who belong to any of the parties
(such as they are) appears to be about 50. Members of parliament are only slightly younger, averaging apparently about 45.

Khatami benefited from the support of hordes of younger voters, but none of Iran’s weak, elitist, tradition-bound, and involuted parties or quasi-parties has done much since to reach out to youth. And yet for all the talk of young Iranians’ political apathy, Khatami’s presidency did help to mobilize a huge portion of disaffected youth and introduce them to the political process. Many veterans of Khatami-era reformist campaigns are still not even thirty years old.

The reformist movement failed not because of a lack of rank-and-file enthusiasm, but because it ran into constitutional obstacles that it could not overcome. The Islamic Republic’s constitution renders institutions based on direct elections—including the presidency and parliament—
extremely weak and subordinate to the Supreme Leader. Legislation that clears parliament must also pass muster with the 12-member Guardian Council, a body whose veto can only be overridden by the Expediency Council, most of whose members are the Supreme Leader’s appointees. The Iranian presidency wields tightly limited powers that include no veto on legislation and no power to appoint the heads of the army and the police. The president must have approval from parliament (and also, in practice, from the Supreme Leader) in order to name cabinet ministers, and controls neither foreign policy nor education policy.11 Through direct appointments or vetting, the Supreme Leader—whose power as “supreme Islamic legal expert” is the keystone of the regime—controls 75 percent of political institutions, and the Guardian Council has the power to disqualify reformist candidates for popularly elected offices. The antidemocratic forces within Iran will only let reformism go so far, as one can see from the Guardian Council’s decision to bar 51 percent of reformist candidates—including eighty incumbents—from running in the 2004 parliamentary elections.

Simply put, democracy is not possible within Iran’s existing constitutional framework, and given this, Khatami’s reform movement could only go so far. The reform movement’s failure to achieve full democracy may have left many disillusioned and disgruntled, yet the reformists played an important role in establishing and strengthening a movement that was not simply for Khatami himself, but rather for democracy in general. This movement holds great potential for democracy’s future in Iran, particularly if it can draw upon the young population’s desire for
more openness and freedoms. Most importantly, it can provide a base of support that can help push through institutional changes which can help bring democracy to Iran. As Khatami’s presidency shows, the regime will employ any and all measures to resist reforms that threaten its survival. Without a foundational movement to give democratic forces the courage and political will to push back, democracy can never take hold.

Students and Their Associations

The democracy movement that Iran needs can, and must, draw its support from all sectors of civil society, including women’s groups, labor unions, intellectuals, and the student movement. This last has the potential to become a potent force within the democracy movement, as it enjoys a natural connection to Iran’s huge youth population and can draw on an ever-growing student population for support. Just as Iran’s population has soared since the Islamic Revolution, so has the number of students. In the last year of the shah’s reign, there were about 160,000 students in public universities; by the 2005–2006 school year, this number had jumped nearly sevenfold to more than a million and even then represented only about half the total number of Iranians enrolled in postsecondary education. Aside from the sheer increase in the number of students in this time, there has also been a marked increase in the number of women in universities. Between these same years, the female share of the college-student population more than doubled, rising from 31 to 64 percent.12

The past decade has also seen an increase in the number of students in private universities. These are known as azad or “free” universities because they operate outside the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Higher Education (although they are still controlled by conservative clerics).
Founded by three clerics without any higher education—among them former president and current Expediency Council and Assembly of Experts chairman Hashemi Rafsanjani—these universities have grown in popularity and now have branches in all Iranian provinces, including in small towns. Students do not have to take the difficult national entrance examination to gain admission, and they enjoy somewhat more freedom in their daily affairs than do their counterparts at traditional public universities. In less than a decade—between the school years 1997–98 and 2004–2005—the number of students in azad universities rose from just over 600,000 to approximately 860,000. Again, the female share of the student body in these universities has also increased, jumping from 41 percent to 50 percent during these same years.

As noted above, there are about two-million postsecondary students all told, and more than half (53 percent) are women. This two-million amounts to about 3 percent of Iran’s total population, or roughly 13 percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 30.13 Even as universities churn out graduates who cannot find jobs, it is estimated that the overall student population will continue to grow by around 5 percent a year.

Whereas students once had to travel to Tehran or its environs to get a proper higher education, burgeoning college enrollments are now evident in many other parts of Iran as well. While Tehran still draws the biggest share (21 percent), provinces such as Isfahan, Khorasan, East Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, and Mazandaran are becoming centers of education. This is encouraging, for it means that the student movement’s potential support base is not only growing numerically but is also spreading geographically to areas well beyond the capital.

With university ranks swelling, students are becoming more deeply involved in issues both on and off campus. Four types of student groups tend—whether directly or indirectly—to test the boundaries drawn by the regime. The first are arts associations, which show movies, plan concerts and performances, and generally seek to entertain the student body at large. These groups operate under the supervision of the each campus’s Office of Cultural Programs. Since Ahmedinejad entered office, censorship and other restrictions on campus cultural activities have tightened.

Student publications, the second group, have played a particularly active role on Iran’s campuses. The Khatami era saw such publications multiply; eventually there were more than five-thousand and they discussed subjects ranging from science and literature to politics. Threatened by an independent press and the free flow of ideas, Ahmedinejad’s government has tried to suppress these publications by slashing their budgets and banning some of them altogether.

The third group are shoray-i senfi, or student trade unions, which were formed during Khatami’s presidency and are elected by the student body as a whole. Similar to the student councils often found at universities in the West, these groups represent student interests and deal with such matters as academic curricula, recreational activities, and the state of dormitories and cafeterias. While these domains may seem mundane, the government’s micromanagement of universities often makes questions of course offerings, required readings, and faculty personnel decisions into de facto political controversies. Recent politically motivated faculty purges and student suspensions have energized students and sparked debate between their unions and university administrators.

To the fourth and final category of student associations belong the political groups, including the prodemocratic student movement. This movement is not simply part of a “youth culture” or subculture, but is in fact currently the main organizational pillar of Iranian civil society. Activists from this movement focus not merely on campus issues such as the independence of universities from government control, but on such larger matters as freedom, democracy, and human rights in the country at large. The movement dates back to the 1930s, when young Iranians studying in Berlin began to criticize the dictatorship of Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925–41), the army officer who had seized the throne after staging a military coup against the tottering Qajar dynasty in 1921. During Reza Shah’s time student political groups were mainly liberal in ideology, but after Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq (r. 1951–53) was overthrown in a 1953 coup led by Mohammad Reza Shah (Reza Shah’s son, who would be toppled in 1979), they became more leftist and communist-leaning. Student groups began to become involved in strikes and protests against the Pahlavi regime, and were strongly represented and active within the main militant protest movements of the time—the Mojahedin-e Khalq (Holy Warriors for the People) and the
Fedayan-e Khalq (Martyrs for the People).

Stages of Student Activism

The student movement’s modern, postrevolutionary history can be divided into three major stages. First, from 1979 until the Cultural Revolution of 1981, the movement was strongly influenced by the prevailing politics and ideology of the Islamic Revolution. The student
movement comprised communist-leaning and religious factions, both of which were anti-American, anticapitalist, and generally left-leaning. The student movement at that time is perhaps best remembered for its 4 November 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the 444-day hostage crisis that ensued.

During the second stage, from the Cultural Revolution until Khomeini’s death in 1989, student groups deemed not sufficiently supportive of the government were purged of their members or banned altogether. The government also created Islamic Student Associations (ISAs) to serve as
officialdom’s “eyes and ears” inside the universities.

Khomeini’s June 1989 death and Khamenei’s promotion to Supreme Leader—which signaled a power shift from left to right within the regime—brought about a third and still-current stage for the student movement. Since 1990, groups set up by the government, including the ISAs as well as the Daftar Tahkim-e Vahdat (Office for Consolidating Unity or OCU) have taken up the call for freedom, democracy, and human rights. Creations but no longer organs of the regime, these groups have become members of the democratic opposition and engines of the reform movement.

Like Iranian youth, the student movement is not homogenous. Political groups can be divided into four main categories: government-run, socialist-communist, Islamic-oriented, and democratic. Exact membership numbers for these groups are unavailable. Our best estimate is that today around half of those who are active in student groups belong to organizations from the fourth (democratic) category, with the remaining students divided more or less evenly among the other three types.

The proregime groups are supportive of and funded by the government, and their main goal is to reproduce the regime’s ideology inside the universities. The two biggest such organizations are the student wings, respectively, of the Basij militia and the Hezbullah (Party of God). Both hew to the regime’s line of hostility to modernity and the West, and support the current form of government and its key institution, the “supremacy of the Islamic legal expert.” They are hierarchical and paternalistic, and favor tighter government control over university life. Often their members are bussed to street rallies or auditoriums in order to create the impression of massive student support for the government. Additionally, they harass—sometimes violently—students who criticize the regime. Aside from the “true believers” and beneficiaries of the regime, students who gravitate to proregime groups come mostly from the poorer classes and from rural areas, lured by the prospect of safe government jobs after graduation.

Socialist-communist groups too form a minority within the student movement, though in recent years their popularity has increased modestly. They tend to be well-organized and enjoy a strong media presence, particularly online. In their ranks are found mainly poor and middle-class students from Tehran. Unofficial and underground organizations such as the student branch of the exiled Hezbe Communiste Kargeri (Communist Workers’ Group) tend to be intensely revolutionary in outlook—at times even condoning violence—and see themselves as fighting the establishment for the sake of the oppressed masses. Leftist groups are very liberal on cultural issues, and secular to the point of being antireligious. While they oppose the current regime, they are also against the normalization of U.S.-Iranian relations and denounce globalization even more vociferously than do the ruling clerics. While the more socialist and modern of the socialist-communist groups support democracy, the avowedly communist groups favor a Marxist state.

Islamic-oriented groups form a third minority bloc within the student movement. Such groups include the National Religious Party (Melli Mazhabi) and the Participation Front (Jebheye Mosharaket). Their base lies among religiously observant students who come mostly from poor or middle-income rural areas. Most of their members support the cause of Khatami-style reformism. The main feature of this Islamic-student bloc is a belief in democracy within the context of Islamic jurisprudence. That is, its members want democracy and respect for human rights, but within the confines of the existing constitution. They are somewhat liberal on cultural issues, and try to combine modernity with tradition. Unlike the previous two groups, they favor normalizing relations with the United States, and also look upon globalization as a positive force that can help Iran.

Lastly, there are the prodemocratic groups. Finding most of their base on the campuses of greater Tehran, these groups reflect not only liberal-democratic and secular but also Islamic-modernist and socialdemocratic schools of thought. Members come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and agree in favoring democratic development, respect for human rights, ideological pluralism, and a principled and permanent separation between religious and political authority. Like the Islamist groups, they want friendly relations with the United States and wish to take advantage of globalization, but differ by calling for radical reform and constitutional change through peaceful means. For democratic groups, an independent, nongovernmental student movement is an integral part of civil society, and they seek to engage all elements of civil society, not just students and young people.

There are numerous democratic political groups—such as the Independent Student Union (Ettehadi-e Mostaghel-e Daneshjui), the Student Democratic Front (Jebhe-e Demokratik-e Daneshjui), and the National Student Union (Ettehadi-e Melli-e Daneshjuyan)—but all are unofficial and operate outside the confines of universities—and so enjoy only limited support.

The Office for Consolidating Unity

The largest and most powerful democratic political group is formed by the OCU and its corresponding ISAs. These groups are at the fore front of the student movement, not only because they are active on seventy campuses across Iran, but because their inclusive and democratic institutional structures make them better able to represent students. Each
university has an ISA whose members are elected by all students—candidates must be ISA members but nonmembers are eligible to vote—and these representatives in turn elect students to serve on the ten-member national committee of the OCU for a one-year term. Exact numbers for ISA membership are difficult to find across all universities, but we estimate that approximately fifty-thousand students took part in the most recent elections.

The ISAs and the OCU have been at the forefront of many demonstrations, including the massive 18 Tir (July 9) protests in 199914 and a December 2006 protest against President Ahmedinejad. On that occasion, Ahmedinejad had come to speak at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University—a longtime activist hotbed—and was greeted by students holding his pictures upside down and chanting “Dictator, go home!”

The increasing popularity and openness of such opposition makes the regime feel threatened. Its response has been to harass, slander, and even jail student leaders. On the 2007 anniversary of the 18 Tir protests, armed security forces attacked the offices of the OCU alumni association
(Advar-e Tahkim Vahdat) and arrested twelve people at gunpoint, among them the current spokesperson of the alumni association, a member of the high council of the association, and the mother of the head of the executive committee, who was in the office to inquire about her son. Six members of the OCU’s central committee were arrested while taking part in a sit-in protest in front of Amir Kabir University. There have also been efforts to “pack” student elections with Basij members. A well-organized, far-reaching state-security apparatus exists within all universities to monitor and control students at every institutional level. Each campus has a disciplinary committee that comprises the university president, vice-president, a representative of the Supreme Leader, and faculty and student representatives—the latter two typically appointed by the university president. Under Ahmedinejad, these committees have become the prime tool for harassing regime critics amid the ranks of students, more than three-hundred of whom have been punished for political reasons.

Monitoring committees consisting of the university president and agents of the Supreme Leader and the Science Ministry decide which student groups to allow and which to ban, while regime-appointed University Cultural Councils issue permits for meetings, seminars, and conferences.
Both of the committees and the cultural councils have increasingly been used to control and pressure student activists. The Science Ministry’s Central Inspection Committee (known as the Gozinesh) assesses the personal backgrounds and beliefs of all university students. Recently, this body has been barring some students from registering, and has forced others to sign declarations saying that they will avoid political activities during their studies. Lastly and perhaps most insidiously, the Intelligence Ministry hires “guardians” (herasat) to identify and spy on students who are critical of the regime. No student can be sure that his or her private life is safe from official prying, or that he or she will not be reported to the judicial or security organs by the government’s network of campus informers.

In addition to these directly repressive tactics, the regime plays a game of “divide and rule” meant to foster splits between democratic forces and civil society. When groups such as the student movement gain popularity and build bridges to women’s groups or off-campus youth, the regime does all it can to wreck these ties and root out these elements. Rumors are spread about women activists’ private lives in order to isolate them from other groups, stories are planted that the student movement is too radical and does not care about labor or gender rights, and labor activists are told that they will lose their jobs if they attend events organized by student or women’s groups. The Islamic Republic has been able to withstand a two-term reformist presidency and a reformist-dominated parliament, but appears to realize that stopping a democratic movement which goes beyond political parties and has a grassroots base in Iranian society will be harder.

Is There a Way Forward?

In analyzing Iran, there is always the danger of underestimating the Islamic Republic’s survival skills. Its demise has been predicted many times—during the tumultuous early years after the shah fell, during the Iran-Iraq War, after Khomeini’s death, and during Khatami’s presidency—
yet in each case the regime managed to endure. It would be ill-conceived to point to Iran’s modernizing youth and a growing student movement as evidence of the regime’s inevitable collapse. They are good signs for the future of democracy in Iran—ones that have a worried set of powerholders scrambling to counteract their influence—but it will take time and energy
to organize these promising pieces into a greater democracy movement. Efforts to do so are underway, but it will not be an easy struggle.

One modest way in which the international community can help is by encouraging cultural and student exchanges. Engaging the Iranian people directly and bypassing the political tensions between Iran and the West, particularly the United States, can help to weaken the isolation of
the populace that the regime craves in order to survive. These measures can include sponsoring conferences where academics and civil society actors from Iran can interact with counterparts from the international community, and easing student-visa restrictions so that Iranians can come to study in the United States and other parts of the West. These exchanges should go both ways. Westerners should be encouraged to learn more about Iranian culture and history in university offerings, and more resources should be allocated for students to study Farsi. Americans in particular may be pleasantly surprised to learn that ordinary Iranians differ widely from the public persona that the regime puts forward, and that especially among the youth, Iran is home to perhaps the greatest degree of pro-American sentiment in the entire Middle East.

Foreign media should also be urged to cover aspects of Iran aside from Ahmedinejad’s nuclear saber-rattling and Holocaust denials. Increasingly, intrepid journalists are traveling to Iran and are reporting on the real situation within the country and among the population. This sort of journalism needs to be encouraged. Thankfully, the December 2006 student protests at Amir Kabir University garnered a surprising amount of media attention. Coverage of these protests and other types of opposition help to show brave Iranians—who often risk their lives and well-being to speak out against the government—that the international community is paying attention and that their efforts are not in vain. It is important for nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups outside Iran to show solidarity with and moral support for groups such as the prodemocratic students’ movement. Making Iran’s struggle for democracy as global an issue as the nuclear one can bolster the forces for democracy within Iran and play a role in the Iranian people’s quest for freedom and human rights.

The Iranian student movement itself can and should take several steps to strengthen its ties with other parts of the democracy movement, specifically to take advantage of potential support among the young. First and foremost, the student movement must find a way to rise above the
factionalism that permeates Iranian politics. The aim should be to foster a basic intramovement solidarity that rests on shared democratic beliefs and sets aside other ideological considerations as less important. A new, overarching group similar in structure to the OCU could even be established to reach this end. Second, the student movement should work to involve in its activities other civil society groups such as labor and women’s organizations. Doing so will require expanding the language of their discourse to include workers’ rights and gender rights, not just issues that concern students and general demands for democracy.

Third, the student movement should reach out to those who are not yet in universities by persuading them that the totalitarian system of government currently in place is the root cause of their grievances, and that democracy is the only viable alternative. In fact, this should apply not merely to those below college age, but to the whole populace, many of whom see democracy as an elite concept that cannot address their real world (and often economic) problems. Existing student groups should even consider setting up branches in primary schools in order to rally
as many Iranians as possible to the democracy movement at the earliest possible age. Finally, both students and the larger democracy movement must be prepared for the violent repressive tactics that the government will use to quash any organized threat to its rule. While the concept of civil disobedience is certainly not unknown to Iran’s democratic forces, this idea must be emphasized and practiced if the democracy movement is to have any hope of breaking the regime’s stranglehold on power.

1. All population figures are drawn from data made available by the Statistical Center of Iran at
2. These data come from the research center of Iranian parliament and are cited at
3. “Welcome to Satellite,” Shargh Daily Press (Tehran), 28 May 2006. Available at
4. Cited in Liora Hendleman-Baayur, “Promises and Perils of Weblogistan: Online Personal Journals and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Middle East Review of International Affairs 11 (June 2007). Available at
5. Jared Cohen, “Iran’s Young Opposition: Youth in Post-Revolutionary Iran,” SAIS Review 16 (Summer–Fall 2006): 3–16.
6. “Unemployment in Young People” [English translation], Fars News Agency (7 and 13 July 2005). Available at
7. Behrooz Karezooni, “Debate About Announced Unemployment Rate in Iran,” [English translation] Radio Farda, 1 June 2007. Available at
8. Data from the 2006 national census are cited at
9. “Dating in Darkness,” Shargh Daily Press, 20 August 2006.
10. Gozaar, June 2007 issues, available at
11. The body that decides foreign policy is the National Security Council, which does not include the president. In order to act, the Council must receive final approval from the Supreme Leader. All universities are managed by the Council for Cultural Revolution, whose members, aside from the president, are direct appointees of the Supreme Leader.
12. All data on student population are drawn from the official figures of Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology.
13. Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. Available at
14. These protests began when students at Tehran University gathered peacefully in
the streets to demonstrate against the closing of the main reformist newspaper, Salam. Police officers and plainclothes security forces violently attacked them and raided the student dormitories. Following these assaults, more students at Tehran University and also Tabriz University took to the streets to decry the beatings and arrests. The five days of protests, which involved up to fifty-thousand students and other citizens, amounted to the largest set of street demonstrations that Iran had seen since the days of the Islamic Revolution. They ended only after the regime brought to bear still more violence and arrested more than a thousand students.

Journal of Democracy Volume 18, Number 4 October 2007
© 2007 National Endowment for Democracy and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Iran: Amnesty International condemns continued repression of human rights defenders

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL Public Statement AI Index: MDE 13/117/2007 (Public) News Service No: 198 16 October 2007

Iran: Amnesty International condemns continued repression of human rights defenders Amnesty International today again expressed its deep concern at continuing repression of human rights defenders and civil society activists in Iran which has deepened in recent months.

Imprisonment of Emaddedin Baghi
One of Iran's best known human rights defenders, Emaddedin Baghi, the head of the Association for the Defence of Prisoners Rights and leading anti-death penalty campaigner, was detained on 14 October when he attended a session before Branch 14 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. His lawyers were not allowed to attend the session with him. Although bail of 50 million Iranian Touman (USD 53,619) was reportedly set for his release, when his family attempted to meet the bail, the judge apparently refused to accept it.

He was detained on the basis of a suspended sentence of one year's imprisonment handed down in 2002. It is not clear where Emaddedin Baghi is currently being held.

Emaddedin Baghi also faces other politically motivated criminal charges: in July 2007 he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, two of which related to the charge of meeting and colluding to commit offences against national security, and one year to the charge of propaganda against the system for the benefit of foreign and opposition groups. His lawyer said that the evidence against him included media interviews and letters to the authorities regarding Ahwazi Arabs sentenced to death in connection with lethal bomb explosions in Khuzestan province. Four other people, including Emaddedin Baghi's wife and daughter were sentenced to three years' imprisonment, suspended for five years, in the same case. Their charges were said to relate to their participation in a human rights conference held in the United Arab Emirates. All remained free pending appeal. Amnesty International considers the charges against Emaddedin Baghi to be politically motivated and aimed at silencing the human rights defender's criticism of the human rights situation in Iran. The organisation considers him a prisoner of conscience and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

Women's rights activists

Activists in the Campaign for Equality who are demanding an end to legalised discrimination against women in Iran are also continuing to face harassment and arrest. Most recently, 21 year-old Ronak Safazadeh was arrested in Sanandaj, the capital of Kordestan province, on 9 October 2007. Ronak Safazadeh is a member of the Campaign for Equality, as well as a member of Azar Mehr, an NGO in Sanandaj. On 8 October, she had attended a meeting on the International Day of the Child in Sanandaj, during which she had collected signatures in support of the Campaign for Equality. The following day, security officials reportedly came to her house at 08.20, confiscated her computer, copies of the Campaign's petition and a booklet produced by the Campaign, and then detained Ronak Safazadeh. After six days, her mother was permitted a brief telephone conversation with her daughter. It is not clear where she is being held.

In September, at least 25 people (including five members of the Campaign's Education committee who had travelled from Tehran) were arrested during an educational workshop held by the Campaign in a private house in Khorramabad, Lorestan province. Of these 22 were released later that night, after being questioned about the Campaign's activities; the other three, Reza Dolatshah, Bahman Azadi, and Khosrow Nasimpour, who are social activists in the city of Khorramabad were released the following day, although they were beaten while in custody.

Women's rights activists are also continuing to face trial proceedings in connection with their activities. Shadi Sadr and Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh were both recently summoned to court. Both were among 33 women arrested in March 2007during a peaceful gathering outside a court where five other women were on trial. They were released on bail after two weeks in detention. Farideh Ghayrat, a lawyer, told the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) on 14 October that their case was under consideration by the Special section for security of the Tehran General and Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office, and that the charge against her clients was acting against national security, although it had not been confirmed that it was connected to the March gathering outside the courtroom, although she expected this to be the case.

In September, journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amou'i was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, after being convicted of acting against state security. He had been detained for a week following a peaceful demonstration in June 2006 which called for equal rights for women. The evidence against him reportedly included a number of open letters to Iran's parliament, or Majles, that he had signed, including one supporting the June 2006 demonstration.

Trade Unionists

According to the Iranian Teachers' Association, dozens of the hundreds of teachers arrested during peaceful demonstrations earlier in 2007 have been sentenced to dismissal or exile. At least two have received suspended prison sentences: Mohammad Reza Rezai-Gorkani and Rasul Badaqi received two- year and three-year suspended sentences respectively. Their lawyer, Hushang Purbabai, told ISNA on 9 October that both were convicted of acting against national security.

A strike by workers at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Plant in Khuzestan Province, who had reportedly received no wages or benefits for over three months, was forcibly broken up by security forces on 3 October. The workers had staged a series of around 15 strikes over more than a year. In August, they had written an open letter to the International Labour Organization, announcing their determination to continue strike action if their demands, which include the right to participate in the election of their own representatives, were not met. There are unconfirmed reports that at least two workers, Ramazan Alipour and Fereydoun Nikofar, were arrested after being summoned to an Intelligence Ministry facility.

According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization, five Kurdish workers' activists have reportedly been sentenced to three months imprisonment and 40 lashes for "disturbing public security". The sentences were suspended for 3 years, during which time they have reportedly been banned from meeting "prominent" political and social figures. They had reportedly been detained for several days earlier in the year during a demonstration protesting at the arrest of another workers' rights activist, Mahmoud Salehi in April 2007.


Kurdish human rights defenders have reported a new wave of arrests and sentences of civil society and student activists. For example, Yasser Gholi, the former head of the Kurdish Democratic student's union who had been banned from studying, was reportedly arrested on 10 October in Sanandaj by security forces that also searched his home and confiscated his computer and other personal items. Ako Kordnasab, a journalist with the newspaper Gerefto, has reportedly been sentenced to three years' imprisonment for espionage.

Amnesty International continues to call on he Iranian authorities to uphold the rights to freedom of association and expression and to end its repression of human rights defenders. The organization urges the authorities to implement the measures provided for in the United Nations General Assembly's Declaration on human rights defenders, adopted in 1998.*

Amnesty International continues to campaign for the release of all prisoners of conscience, for those accused of offences to be tried in full accordance with international fair trial standards and without recourse to the death penalty, and for all reports of torture or other ill-treatment of prisoners to be rapidly, thoroughly and independently investigated and for any officials responsible for torturing or abusing prisoners to be brought to justice.

*The full name of General Assembly Resolution A/RES/53/144 is the 'Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms' and can be viewed at:

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ITF: Iran government lies over Osanloo eye emergency

16 October 2007

The ITF has learned that imprisoned Iranian trade unionist Mansour Osanloo is in danger of losing his sight following the latest government ploy to silence him.
Despite government promises Osanloo has not received the emergency treatment that he desperately needs to treat injuries to his eyes sustained when he was assaulted by government security forces two years ago – even though the prison doctor has admitted that if he is not treated within the next two weeks he could go blind.

Just a week ago Hanafi Rustandi, President of the Indonesian KPI union, flew to Iran on the ITF’s behalf to visit Osanloo in prison. He was told the reason he couldn’t see Osanloo was because he was receiving the urgent medical treatment he needed. Shortly afterwards the same excuse was used to block a visit to Osanloo by his wife, Parvenah.

ITF General Secretary David Cockroft described the news as “a sordid ploy by the government to isolate Mansour and punish him for having the audacity to ask for his trade union rights”.
He continued: “The fight for Mansour and his colleagues continues. Fresh on the heels of Hanafi’s visit to Iran and the ITF-ETF demonstration at its embassy in Brussels yesterday comes the release today of a short ITF film that is the latest tool in our worldwide campaigning against what is happening in Iran.”

As well as being distributed among the international trade union movement, the new film, Freedom Will Come – the Story of Mansour Osanloo, can be seen at and by following the link at

Mansour Osanloo, 47, is the President of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), which has been violently repressed by the Iranian authorities. Osanloo has been made a particular target for imprisonment and brutal attacks and is currently being held in Evin prison in Tehran. Ebrahim Madadi, Vice President of the union, has also been detained and is know to be in poor health and suffering from diabetes.

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Monday, October 15, 2007


RSF: Revolutionary court detains journalist who defends prisoners of conscience

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns the arrest yesterday of journalist Emadeddin Baghi on a charge of “propaganda against the government.” Baghi is a leading advocate of the rights of prisoners of conscience in Iran.

“Baghi’s arrest is an example of the strategy of harassment and pressure being used against journalists by the Iranian authorities, who are trying to silence the growing number who are demanding the legitimate right to a free and independent press,” the press freedom organisation said.

Reporters Without Borders added: “We urge all democratic countries to firmly condemn Baghi’s arbitrary arrest and we call for the release of all of Iran’s prisoners of conscience, who are growing in number by the month.”

Baghi was arrested when he responded to a summons to report to a Tehran revolutionary court. The summons listed new charges against him. His lawyer said he is now accused of propaganda against the government and “publishing secret government documents obtained with the help of prisoners held for security violations in special centres.”

This is by no means the first time Baghi has been arrested. He first went to prison in 2000, when he was given a three-year sentence for “attacking national security.” A Tehran revolutionary court sentenced him to another year in prison on 9 November 2004 for writing a book that accused the Iranian authorities of involvement in the murders of intellectuals and journalists in 1998. His newspaper, Joumhouriat, was closed by the government in 2003. An anti-death penalty campaigner, he won a French government human rights prize in 2005.

On 31 July of this year, a Tehran revolutionary court sentenced him to three years in prison for “activities against national security” and “publicity in favour of the regime’s opponents” but he was not immediately made to begin serving the sentence. At the same time, his wife, Fatemeh Kamali Ahmad Sarahi, and his daughter Maryam Baghi, were given three-year suspended prison sentences and five years of probation for taking part in a series of human rights workshops in Dubai in 2004. The charges were “meeting and colluding with the aim of disrupting national security.”

He told Reporters Without Borders on the eve of yesterday’s court appearance: “I am convinced they will not let me walk free from the courtroom. They want to ban my activities, although they are legal, and to silence all the independent voices in this country.” Yesterday, the court initially decided to release Baghi on bail of 50 million toumen (40,000 euros), but then changed its mind. It is not known where he is being held.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007


International Transport Workers' Federation Rep. Visits Iran

“Test case” mission to Iran
11 October 2007

An ITF representative from Indonesia, who arrived in the Iranian capital earlier this week in a bid to meet with imprisoned trade unionist Mansour Osanloo, described the mission as a “test case” of relations between two Islamic states.

Hanafi Rustandi, Chair of the ITF’s national coordinating committee in Indonesia and President of the Indonesian seafarers’ union, the Kesatuan Pelaut Indonesia, first broached the subject of the mission with the Iranian Embassy in Jakarta during worldwide protests for Osanloo on 9 August.

Accompanied by Syukur Sarto, General Secretary of the FSPSI, an Indonesian trade union confederation, Rustandi had hoped to visit Osanloo, who is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, but this did not happen. However, during Hanafi’s visit, Osanloo was admitted to hospital for an urgent eye operation.

Osanloo’s detention is the latest move in a brutal two-year government campaign against him and other members of the Tehran bus workers’ union, Sandikaye Kargarane Sherkate Vahed.

The men were able to meet with the families of Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, Vice President of the union, and with relatives of Salehi of the Saqez Bakery Workers’ Association, both of whom have also been imprisoned. They were reported to be delighted that the plight of imprisoned union leaders has not been forgotten by the outside world.

Hanafi Rustandi described the mission as “a test case for the friendship between our two Muslim countries”. He added: “Iran should show its commitment to international labour standards and universal human rights. We hope this problem can be settled and Osanloo can be released due to the good ties between our two countries.”

David Cockroft, General Secretary of the ITF, which has, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, coordinated the global effort to protect Osanloo, Salehi and their unions, commented: “We hear that the arrival of the Indonesian delegation has helped underline just how much the eyes of the world are on Iran in this matter, and how the members of the Vahed Syndicate are asking why, if their Muslim brothers and sisters in Indonesia can have a free trade union, they can’t too.”

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Saturday, October 13, 2007


Twenty Questions from President of Iran

Amir-Kabir University News Bulletin:

According to the official News agencies of Islamic Republic, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planned a visit to Tehran University in the wake of commencement of the fall term. The central council of Islamic Students Union (Office To Foster Unity, OFU) representing all major universities in the country today published its open letter in anticipation of the president’s speech at the university.

The Office to Foster Unity posed 20 questions to the president. Thereafter it demanded admissions for its representatives to meet with the president during his visit to the university.

According to the Amir-Kabir University’s News Bulletin the president’s visit was supposed to take place last week. However, after OFU wrote the letter to the president and announced its readiness to participate in the event with him at the University, the visit was unexpectedly postponed.

Basically the major theme of the 20 questions put forward to the president is based on the arrest and retaliatory tortures of students of Polytechnique College, branding activist students and depriving them from pursuing their education at the university, exercising gender discrimination at the universities, reduction of the universities’ budget, harsh response of the government to the student activists and bodies who criticize the government, involuntary retirement as well as firing of the professors, hiring of those who are politically aligned with the government, egregious governmental pressure on the low income classes such as teachers and laborers, closure of the periodicals and uttermost pressure on their editors, threatening of the opposition party members, closure of the Office of the Organization of Iranian Graduates, arrest and arraignment of women activists, widespread corruption within the governmental entities, the principals behind the governmental expenditures, economic regression and a surge in the poverty within the society, exponential hike in the price of real Estate, unnecessary engagement in debates regarding the Holocaust, government policies with respect to nuclear crisis, giving a lot of monetary aide to Latin America, futile allurement of China and Russia, causing crisis in international arena by arresting the British sailors, inconsistency between deeds and declarations of the president.

The content of the Open letter by the Office of Fostering Unity to president Ahmadinejad


Although our initial salutation to you went unnoticed in a manner uncharacteristic of an Iran Moslem, we greet you again for we recognize that the only way to achieve democracy and progress is to show tolerance. Therefore, we find it necessary to curtsy the head of the government that is know for its assailant and intolerant attributes.

We are well aware of the fact that previously you did not respond to our genuflection and you did not answer our questions either. You canceled your visit to University of Tehran so that you did not have to face us and you plan to reschedule your visit for a more convenient time when you can avoid us altogether.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, once again we learned that you are planning to visit Tehran University while our request from you has not been answered (our request to permit our representative to be present at the gathering at Tehran University to pose our questions to you.

We agree with inviting the president of United States to visit our Universities and deliver speeches. As a matter of fact we concur with any dialog at the international level for the purpose of reducing the chance of a war. Nevertheless, we are puzzled that a president of a foreign country can visit our universities and engage in a dialog with students, but Iranian professors and students who are critical of the government are not allowed to express their opinion at the campuses. These aforementioned individuals have filed hundreds of requests to speak at events in the campuses of universities, but their requests have been turned down. How is it that George W. Bush can speak at Iranian universities, but not Iranian intellectuals? How is it that you set the British sailors, whom you claimed invaded our waters free, but the Iranian college students, professors, teachers, and union leaders who expressed their anti-government opinion are kept captive in jails for months?

Mr. Ahmadinejad since the responsible officials are trying to prevent us from meeting with you at Tehran University at all costs and the security team has contacted the students in order to obstruct their presence in a gathering with you, we would like to pose our questions to you right now hoping that you will be able to meet with you and hear your answers in person.


1) Three Amir Kabir University students, namely Ehsan Mansouri, Majid Tavakoli and Ahmad Ghasaban which are members of this organization, are in prison for 5 months for publishing false reports. Many believe that these false reports were published by your followers for vengeance. In their recent court appearance the issue of criticizing you was brought up. Eventhough in your visit to Columbia University you claimed there is no repercussion against those who criticize you.

2) Since the start of the ninth government, identifying activist students and then depriving those of continued education started. In current year this escalated for students of other beliefs as well as professors. Indeed under what legal, moral and human justification, students and intellectuals critical of your policies are deprived of education by agencies under your control?

3) In this years Entrance exam there sexual discrimination and a group of female students with far better grades then their male counterparts were deprived of entry to the universities or attend far away universities? Upon a direct inquiry by the students, this was confirmed by the Office of Educational Assessment confirmed. Discrimination based on sex is a clear violation of human rights with no defensible justification.

4) This year with 25% increase of students-irrespective of the yearly inflation, according to department of education the university budget was decreased, therefore we noticed decline in Student and educational amenities. Why and under what logic we should notice this decline while at the same time we notice an increase in the government budget?

5) In your two years as the president of this nation, over 550 student activists, faced disciplinary committees, 43 student organizations closed, more than 130 student newspapers banned and more than 70 members of this committee were arrested. And their crime was only criticizing the mismanagement of your government? Almost at no universities there exists an organization critical of your government. All such organizations are either closed and or in the process of closing. Indeed what do you consider freedom of speech that in your speech at Columbia University you so much bragged about it?

6) During your presidency of this country, more than 100 of our countries best professors have either been forced to retire or for legal pretexts been fired. For the first time in the history of higher education, a person with no university degree has been appointed as the head of the university and alliance to your government is the criteria for hiring the professors. At a time when according to all educational experts our universities have shortage in professors and our universities are not even ranks in the first 2000 good universities of the world we do we behave in such a manner towards the professors?

Human Rights and Freedom of Speech

7) The records of official News agencies testify that during the two years of your administration many teachers and labor workers have been jailed or have lost their jobs as a result of their involvement with Worker’s unions. We are just wondering how and when your support of the common laborers and working class will take place?

8) Newspapers and News agencies have been shut down as a result of the complaint filed against them by your government. To list a few we name ILNA New agency and Baztab Web sites that were blocked as a result of a complaint filed by ministry of Post secondary education. The Daily Newspapers Shargh and Ham Meehan were closed down and their editors now face charges. Newspapers Etemad and Etemad-Meli also have complaints filed against them by the government although they remain open. The journalists who report on conditions of human rights, the women activists, students or ethnic groups have been consistently harassed by the security forces. Various ministries within your government are putting enormous pressures on the newspaper editors not to reflect on the news. Based on the recommendation of the Council of National Security Newspapers are banned from publishing any report or comments on a wide range of issues. Iran News agencies has simply turned into the government’s News Bulletin. The manager of ISNA News Agency (Students’ News agency) is under immense pressure not to report on the illegal treatment of student activists. What is the reason for all these undue pressures? How long is this going to go on?

9) The opposition parties have faced the greatest adversity by the government since you took office 2 years ago. The headquarter of OFU has been sealed and our grievances have fallen on deaf ears. There is no legal basis for closing of our headquarter. The governmental subsidy to the political parties has been slashed. Political opposition parties can not obtain licenses for their news bulletins. While all the modern societies in the world have accepted political parties as a one of the pillars of democracy, we are wondering that how is it possible to achieve democracy without the presence of political parties? We also would like to know how is it that you support democracy in United States, but don’t wish it for Iran.

10) In addition to existence of gender discrimination at national universities, the government introduced a bill to the parliament that would clearly violate women’s rights in a marriage contract. This bill was introduced to the parliament while women activists who are striving for equal rights for women are being consistently charged with activities against homeland security and are being thrown in jail. Why does your government pose such a hostile attitude towards women in our society?

Economic situation

11) You ran your presidential campaign with the slogan of 1) putting the revenues from oil industry on people’s table 2) eliminating corruption and nepotism. However, surveys conducted by credible sources indicate that in the past 2 years corruption has increased within the executive branch of the regime. In fact the state has deeply plunged into decadence. People’s living conditions have also deteriorated in the past 2 years. Thus, we are anxious to find out when your campaign promises will materialize?

12) As you know the oil revenues have increased drastically over the past 2 years. Therefore, your government has enjoyed a surplus of revenues that is unprecedented in the previous administrations. We would like to ask you what measures your government has taken in order to inject this extra income into progressive national projects that would benefit our country?

13) Despite the increase in oil revenues, the economic growth has been 2 percent less than its level during the presidency of Mr. Khatami. This translates into a loss of 700,000.00 billion Rials. As the economic conditions worsen, it gets more and more difficult for ordinary Iranians to meet the ends. It seems that the result of your economic plans have been very divergent from your campaign promises.

14) Members of your own cabinet admit that as a result of the government’s wrong policies the country is facing an aberrant inflation in the housing market. Your government is actually advising home buyers not to purchase real estate in the big cities. Are you aware of the fact that housing market crisis has influenced the lives of many Iranians nowadays? How do you plan to resolve this issue?

Foreign Policies

Although we are well aware of the fact that in Islamic Republic there many entities involved in shaping the foreign policies of the government. Nevertheless, we can not discount the role of the government in constructing an effective policy that would benefit the country. Unfortunately, your imprudent comments in the international scene have cost our country a hefty price.

15) Granting that the holocaust is an undeniable fact of the World War II, why do you insist on questioning it? What do you plan to accomplish by bringing about the issue of holocaust? Is this to you the most important issue facing humanity today? Suppose your goal is to support the people of Palestine. Do you really believe that by raising doubts about holocaust you can assist Palestinians?

16) Your provocative comments made in reference to Iran’s nuclear dossier have even raised the eyebrows of individuals in your camp. We believe that your dictum in this respect is in sharp contrast with the official policies of the Islamic Republic. Do you realize that the 2 resolutions passed recently by United Nations Security Council against Iran have been the result of your mishandling of the nuclear issue?

17) Repetitive trips to Latin America and magnanimous donations to those countries are for what purpose?

18) What is the reason for allowing our country to be extorted by China and Russia? Your government has given a lot of economic incentives to these 2 countries hoping that they would back Iran in its nuclear dossier. We believe that ultimately both China and Russia will vote against Iran in the UN Security Council.

19) What was the reason behind arresting the British sailors and making a great deal of commotion about them crossing into our waters. At the end was it the threat made by the British prime minister that led to their sudden release?

20) Now the last but not the least question: In regards with your speech at Columbia University and in general all your speeches outside Iran, we have noticed that your remarks are in sharp contrast with what you say inside the country. Don’t you think that making contradicting statements does not leave any more your Iranians to back your stance on issues. We believe that your behavior is very deceptive and has caused the people to lose faith in the system.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, if you truly have answers to our questions, please allow one representative from our group to meet with you in the auditorium together with all the pre-selected attendees. We are anxious to hear the responses of the head the freest government in the world!

All will perceive the encounter of a man who challenges the world with his own fellow countrymen. Remember that history will record the way you treated the Iranian students.

Central Council of Office to Foster Unity

Translated by United Republicans of Iran

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