Iranian students held over protest at war-graves move

By Katherine Butler,Foreign Editor
Thursday 26 February 2009 01:00

Dozens of Iranian students have been detained after a rare protest on Monday at a university in Tehran, human rights groups claimed yesterday. The students had been demonstrating over the reburial of the bodies of soldiers killed during the Iran-Iraq war on the campus of the prestigious Amir Kabir University.

Student leaders accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government of transferring war graves to the campus as a ploy to dissuade them from staging or hosting anti-government rallies before the June presidential elections. Bodies of soldiers killed in the long conflict with Iraq, revered as martyrs in Iran, have already been transferred to graves in two other universities in the capital in the past month.

Student demonstrations have been rare in Iran since 2005 after the introduction of measures under which protesters can be expelled from their faculties. But the reburial scheme has provoked accusations that the "martyrs" are being used as a political weapon.

Hadi Ghaemi, of the New York-based Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said: "The students are being targeted for their outspoken advocacy and defence of freedom of expression."

Video clips from mobile phones on the internet showed scuffles after the reburial ceremony on the campus. Student websites said protesters were confronted by militias, or Basiji, armed with knives and pepper sprays.

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