The July 1999 Student Demonstrations in Iran By: Anahita Zardosht

18tir uprising.jpg

Many in the international community, as well as the people of Iran, hoped that with the election of a “reformist” president in 1997, Mohammad Khatami, the human rights abuses in Iran would decline. Unfortunately, the aspirations of the people were crushed when the government continued being as ruthless as ever-in curbing dissent in the people, most notably, the student demonstrations of July 9, 1999. In July 1999, parliament passed new laws banning any publication other than those specifically sanctioned, holding the licensee, editors, writers and even typists directly responsible for any unauthorized article or publication In opposition, the students in Tehran University demonstrated, which led to a confrontation with the vigilantes and the security forces. According to Radio Free Europe, the demonstrators were chanting, "cannon, tanks, and machine guns no longer have any effect." Many students were detained and injured, and according to the Iranian government, at least one student died in the conflict. Furthermore, the security forces waited until late into the night when they stormed the dormitories at Tehran University and proceeded to beat students and throw others out of the windows. Student demonstrations also spread to Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz. In his first public statement regarding the demonstrations, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, condemned the violence as "unacceptable."

The Marzeporgohar Party (Iranians for a secular republic), a political party built on the foundation of a democratic and secular Iran, which has been outlawed by the clerical regime, was an integral force in organizing and executing the July demonstration. The leadership of the party in particular was a driving force behind the events that transpired over the course of those five days, and for their involvement, numerous members have paid a heavy price.
One female journalist and graduate student at Tehran University, Nooshin Barati, who is affiliated with the Marzeporgohar Party, was assigned to cover the Shariati Hospital. She recounts the story of one eighteen-year-old boy, who was shot from a distance of ten centimeters, and considered clinically dead. However, the agents of the intelligence and information ministry would not allow the doctors to turn off the life support machines in order to lower the death count. In addition, the government had initiated a policy considered inhumane by civilized standards. The government agents were secretly abducting the students from the hospitals to unknown locations. Ms. Barati, with the help of some doctors, was instrumental in assisting the patients escape the hospital in order to evade abduction. Perhaps one of the most disturbing events that she witnessed was that of Behzad Vassileh Ezad-Moosa, a member of the Marzeporgohar Party whose left cheek was struck by a bullet, and became lodged among the vertebrate of his neck. Even after extensive surgeries, his upper jaw, tongue and throat are still damaged and will never be restored to their healthy state.

A notable leader of the Marzeporgohar Party, Elham Aryana, has gained somewhat of a celebrity status for being the first woman to take off her veil during the demonstration. This caused a wave of other brave women to defy the oppressive ways of the government and assert their innate right of self-expression. Since the demonstration, she has escaped from Iran because she fears additional retaliation from the government for her defiance. Currently residing in the United States, she continues working in a leadership position in the Marzeporgohar Party.
After the student demonstrations, the very people who were attempting to bring the Iranian population the freedom the desire were brutally arrested, tortured, and jailed. The executive director of the party, Roozbeh Farahanipour, recalls 36 days of being held in solitary confinement, being repeatedly tortured, and hearing of the death of many colleagues. His arrest warrant bore the signature of the “reformist” President Khatami. He recalls that the torturing devices of the Islamic Republic rival those of Saddam Hussein’s sadistic regime. Those detained have been beaten and tortured in detention by having the soles of their feet whipped with a cable, as well as extensive psychological torture. In addition, his family received a number of phone calls asking them to come pick up his corpse in the morning because by sunrise he will be executed. No mother should ever receive such information, especially when it becomes evident that it is a cruel hoax courtesy of the agents of the government. Mr. Farahanipour received two death sentences for speaking out against the regime and peacefully assembling, which can hardly be deemed a fair punishment. Meanwhile, those detained for causing harm to the students during the demonstrations were acquitted of all charges. Since escaping Iran, Mr. Farahanipour has acquired political asylum status in the United States, and despite continual threats on his life; he is a brave leader in the fight against the oppressive regime.

The icing on the cake came one year after the July 1999 demonstrations when two of the attorneys defending some of the students who were detained were arrested on June 27, 2000 on bogus charges. According to Amnesty International, Shirin Ebadi and Mohsen Rahami were charged with producing and distributing a videocassette that allegedly “[disturbed] public opinion.” The arrest of these attorneys as they are attempting to carry out their legal obligations is yet another example of the failure of the Iranian judicial system.

The actions of the government during and after the demonstrations violated the basic human rights of scores of individuals. These fundamental rights are guaranteed by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But there is hope; we have witnessed over the course of the last couple of weeks that the students and intellectuals of Iran, with the help of the Marzeporgohar Party both inside and outside of Iran, have continued to demonstrate against the oppression of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The brutal attack and treatment of the student demonstrators are only the tip of the iceberg of the human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Leaders around the world lament the Holocaust and swear, “never again;” it is time to demonstrate that they will stand by their words and help the Iranian people. This is a different kind of Holocaust; it does not discriminate against race or religion. Instead, this massacre depends on the individual’s political position. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, I challenge you, as the leaders of the free world, to put an end to such atrocities.

Anahita Zardosht is a Human Rights Research Analyst for the Marze Por Gohar Party, Iranians for a secular republic.