Monday, December 18, 2006

Iranian students hide in fear for lives after venting fury at Ahmadinejad


December 18, 2006
The Guardian
Robert Tait in Tehran

Iranian student activists who staged an angry protest against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week have gone into hiding in fear for their lives after his supporters threatened them with revenge. One student fled after being photographed holding a banner reading, "Fascist president, the polytechnic is not for you", during Mr Ahmadinejad's visit to Tehran's Amir Kabir university. At least three others have gone underground after being seen burning his picture.

Vigilantes from the militant Ansar-e Hezbollah group have been searching for them.

In a startling contrast to the acclaim Mr Ahmadinejad has received in numerous recent appearances around Iran, he faced chants of "Death to the dictator" as he addressed a gathering in the university's sports hall last week. Several hundred students forced their way in to voice anger over a clampdown on universities since he became president last year. While his aides played down the incident, the Guardian has learned details of the violent and chaotic events.

Last Monday's university demonstration triggered violent clashes between student activists and crowds of Basij militia, who were there to support the president. A shoe was thrown at Mr Ahmadinejad while a student had his nose broken by an aide to a cabinet minister. Protesters later surrounded the president's car, prompting a security guard to fire a stun grenade to warn them off. Four cars in the presidential convoy collided in their haste to leave.

"He threatened us directly, saying that what we were doing was against the wishes of the nation," said Babak Zamanian, a spokesman for Amir Kabir university's Islamic students' committee. "After that, the students protested even more sharply, calling him a lying religious dictator and shouting, 'Forget America and start thinking about us!' "We were chanting, 'Get lost Ahmadinejad!' and 'Ahmadinejad - element of discrimination and corruption.' You could see from his face that he was really shocked. He wasn't flashing his usual smile, and at one stage I thought he was going to cry. He told his supporters to respond with a religious chant hailing Ahmadinejad, but he was so shaken he was actually chanting it himself." Another student said: "He was trying to keep control of himself, but you could see he was angry and upset."