Pressure mounts in Iran after violent crackdown
August 29, 2000, TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran's pro-reform student
movement accused the security forces on Tuesday of abetting five days of
Islamic vigilante violence that rocked the western city of Khorramabad,
leaving one policeman dead.
Scores were injured -- about 35 people were hospitalized -- after hardline
gangs armed with knives and clubs broke up a student conference late on
Thursday. They later attacked buses ferrying the participants back to their
campuses across Iran.
In the latest outburst, mourners at the funeral of the dead police officer
assaulted the local governor-general on Tuesday and fractured his skull,
Iranian state television said.
It said a number of participants in the funeral procession for Sergeant
Ardeshir Karami, 24, broke away and attacked the governor. He was rescued
by police but no arrests were made.
The attack on the governor appeared to support allegations by the students
and their pro-reform allies that President Mohammad Khatami now faces a
serious challenge from hardline forces outside his control.
"The local governor's office said it did not have the power to
enforce the law," Ebrahim Shaykh, an organizer for the students' Office
to Consolidate Unity (OCU) told a news conference in Tehran. "There
was an atmosphere of terror in Khorramabad," he said.
The OCU, which groups campus Islamic associations, was central to the
coalition that elected the reformist Khatami in 1997. Since then it has
faced relentless pressure from conservatives wary of Iran's long tradition
of student activism.
"The official organs of state were openly supporting the attackers,"
said fellow student leader Mohammad Mehdi Tabatabaei. "The time has
come for the system to make clear whether or not it supports these crisis-creating
Influential reformist MP Mohsen Armin, deputy chairman of the committee
on national security and foreign policy, said it was "regrettable"
that the government could neither protect the students nor control the
gangs and their patrons in the security apparatus.
"If the Khatami administration cannot show its power and stand
up to the 'pressure groups'... it will definitely not be able to carry
out its plans for economic and political reform," Armin told the official
IRNA news agency.
The students also used their news conference to appeal directly to supreme
leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed
forces and the police, to condemn the latest violence and to punish those
So far, senior officials have been silent on the unrest, the worst since
six days of student protests in July 1999 -- which were also touched off
by a bloody vigilante attack.
Witnesses told Reuters the attackers, believed to be members of the
hardline Ansar-e Hezbollah group, arrived in cars with state number plates.
Their leaders communicated by walkie-talkie.
One witness, a student from Mashhad, told Reuters his bus was attacked
with the help of a Revolutionary Guards unit as it passed through Borujerd,
en route to Tehran.
"We stopped our bus in the main square for prayers and a rest,
when a Revolutionary Guards car spotted us," said Ali Dowlatkhah.
"They were waiting for us and they gathered the plainclothes attackers."
Dowlatkhah said the hardliners commandeered the bus and forced the students
to run between two lines as they beat them with fists and weapons. He said
he was knocked unconscious and treated in a nearby hospital.
The trouble began late last week, when vigilantes blockaded two prominent
dissidents inside Khorramabad airport to prevent their appearance before
the annual student gathering.
In a series of incidents over several days the attackers, acting with
apparent impunity, abducted groups of students, blindfolded them and beat
them with fists and whips before dumping them on the outskirts of town.