Human Rights Watch condemns the Assault on Iranianstudents


(New York, July 13, 1999)- Human Rights Watch today called onAyatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Republic ofIran, to ensure that an independent public inquiry is carried outinto the July 9 attack on students at Tehran University dormitoriesby the extremist group Ansar-e Hezbollah and police.

"This is what happens when the state allows armed civiliangroups to take the law into their own hands. Ayatollah Khamenei mustact swiftly to ensure ordinary Iranians are protected against suchlawlessness."

Hanny Megally Executive Director, Middle East and North AfricaDivision of Human Rights Watch

For Further nformation: Elahe S. Hicks - 212.216/1233

Hanny Megally - 212.216/1230

Full Text of the HR Watch

Letter to Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei July 13, 1999

H.E. Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei Leader of the Islamic Republicof Iran Tehran, Iran

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch strongly condemns the brutal assault onstudents at Tehran University halls of residence in the early hoursof Friday July 9, 1999 by police and members of the Ansar-eHezbollah. At least one visitor to the dormitory is known to havebeen killed by gunfire during the assault, although unconfirmedreports place the number of dead at four. Many others were beaten andwounded and hundreds were reportedly detained. The assault on thedormitory, when the students were sleeping, was in response to apeaceful protest on Thursday July 8 against the closure of Salamnewspaper, a popular daily identified with the cause of politicalreform, and attempts by the parliament to restrict freedom of thepress by proposing restrictive draft amendments to the press law.

The demonstration on July 8 involved a few hundred students. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that police officers observed thedemonstration but did not intervene, and the students returned totheir dormitory without incident. It appears that at about 4.30 am onJuly 9, police allowed members of Ansar-e Hezbollah to enter thedormitory. They attacked students and attemped to take some of themaway. Students reportedly responded by fighting the attackers andprotesting the abduction of their colleagues. As the conflictescalated, 300 armed police entered the campus shooting in the airand firing tear gas. The students were driven back into theirdormitories. At this point, hundreds of purported members of theAnsar-e Hezbollah were admitted to the dormitory buildings andsystematically ransacked student rooms, destroyed property andassaulted students. During this assault, according to the independentnewspaper Neshat, 300 students were wounded, 400 taken into detentionand four were killed. By 7.00 am the clash was over. After Fridayprayers at midday on July 9, students held a rally on the universitycampus to protest the assault on the dormitory. Hezbollah againattacked with sticks and chains while the police reportedly stood byor joined in the attacks.

Your Excellency, these events yet again highlight the role oforganized civilian groups claiming religious authority to carry outacts of violence and lawlessness, and the close collaboration withthese groups of police and security forces. These actions contributeto the acute problem of lack of accountability on the part of thepolice and law enforcement personnel. Human Rights Watch calls onYour Excellency to ensure that a thorough, public, and independentinquiry is carried out into the events of July 9, and that thoseresponsible for wrong-doing are identified and brought to justice. Inthis regard, Human Rights Watch welcomes the July 10 statement of theSupreme National Security Council calling for a comprehensive inquiryinto the incident, and for holding accountable those responsible. Weurge you to ensure that these directives are carried outimmediately.

All those responsible for assaulting students and taking part inother illegal acts should be prosecuted. The role of Tehran policechief General Hedayat Lotfian, who has been identified in pressaccounts as the officer responsible for ordering the assault on thecampus, should be made clear. If it turns out that he was acting onorders from higher authorities, then those responsible should also beidentified and held accountable. Law enforcement personnel shouldprotect citizens from the lawless actions of violent organizedcivilians and never act in collusion with them. Finally, all studentsdetained in this illegal action who have not been charged with anyinternationally recognizable crime should be released.

Insofar as the Minister of the Interior, Hojatoleslam AbdolvahedMousavi-Lari, has stated that the assault on the campus took placewithout the ministry's approval, Your Excellency should take steps toensure that authority over law-enforcement personnel resides withresponsible government officials, in accordance with the law, andsubject to judicial oversight.

Your Excellency, the themes of accountability and upholding therule of law lie at the root of the events at Tehran University onJuly 9, 1999. Since September 1998 dozens of newspapers have beenclosed down in proceedings that violated the law. The closure ofSalam newspaper, which initiated the students' protest, was triggeredby that newspaper's reporting of the alleged role of Saeed Emami, ahigh ranking Ministry of Information official, in efforts by theparliament to restrict freedom of the press. Mr. Emami was implicatedin the killings of writers and intellectuals in 1998 and is allegedto have committed suicide in prison in late June 1999. Newspapershave been at the forefront of efforts to expose official involvementin the killings of a number of journalists and intellectuals at theend of 1998.

Your Excellency, as Leader of the Islamic Republic, you areconstitutionally responsible for overseing the functioning of allbranches of the government. The executive branch of government cannotfulfill its proper functions as long as the institutions under yoursupervision fail to comply with their obligations under Iranian andinternational law. You should exercise your authority to ensure thatofficials implicated in illegal assaults and killings are exposed andprosecuted, to ensure that freedom of the press is respected, and toensure that law enforcement operations are carried out in accordancewith the law. Upholding the rule of law, and respecting the rightsand freedoms of citizens are among your duties as Leader.



Hanny Megally Executive Director Middle East and North AfricaDivision Human Rights Watch