Student editors jailed for allegedly publishing offensive articles

New York, May 15, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the recent arrests of four Iranian student editors of Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran following the publication of newsletters carrying articles deemed insulting to Islam. The students say they had no involvement in the publications, calling them a fraud designed to disrupt student elections. All of the university’s student publications were nonetheless banned by the school administration, according to online reports.

In the run-up to the Islamic Student Association annual elections at the prestigious polytechnic institute, newsletters bearing the names and logos of four student publications were distributed throughout the campus on April 30, according to AUTNews, the Web site of the Islamic Student Association of Amirkabir University. They contained three controversial articles and two caricatures deemed critical of the Iranian regime and insulting to Islam.

One article questions the infallibility of the Prophet Mohammad, the first Shiite Imam Ali, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to CPJ sources familiar with the Persian-language newsletters. Another story criticizes the regime’s crackdown on modern female clothing, and a third ridicules Islamic women’s attire.

The four arrested editors issued a statement May 3 saying that the newsletters fraudulently used the names and logos of their publications, according to AUTNews. The editors claimed that student members of the Basij—a militia affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, an elite unit under the supreme leader’s control—reproduced the names and logos in an attempt to disrupt the elections to the Islamic Student Association, AUTNews said. Immediately following distribution of the newsletters, the Basij attacked the publications and their activist leaders, according to online sources.

Islamic Student Associations, which operate on campuses across Iran, are at the forefront of student political activism. The New York Times reported that Amirkabir University Chancellor Alireza Rahai had previously ordered the closure of the association’s offices on campus. All of the arrested editors are considered pro-democracy activists.

AUTNews reported that more than 100 student publications across Iran issued statements of support for the student publications and condemned those responsible for fabricating the newsletters.

“We are outraged by the arrest of these four student editors,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Iranian authorities continue to crack down on political and pro-democracy activists. These arrests show the extent the regime is willing to go to silence dissenting voices.”

The arrests began in early May, according to AUTNews. Ahmad Ghassaban, managing editor of Sahar, was arrested May 3, according to international news reports. On May 7, the first day of the Islamic Student Association elections, Maghdad Khalilpur, managing editor of Atiyeh, was arrested while leaving the university campus, the Iranian Student News Agency reported.

Puyan Mahmudian, managing editor of Rivar, and Majid Sheikhpur, managing editor of Sar Khat, appeared before a Revolutionary Court on Wednesday, the last day of the student elections, and were ordered detained, AUTNews reported.

All four are being held at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, along with three other members of the Islamic Student Associations arrested during unrest on campus. About 2,000 Amirkabir students voted in the elections amid reports of violent obstruction by the Basij and university security, according to AUTNews and international news reports. Ghassaban and Sheikhpur were among those who won seats.

Ali Afshari, former secretary-general of the Islamic Student Association at Amirkabir University of Technology, told CPJ that he believes the disruption of Islamic Student Association elections was in retaliation for disruption students had caused during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s December 2006 campus speech. The New York Times reported that during the speech students shouted, “Death to the dictator,” and burned posters with Ahmadinejad’s image.