MPs urge Khatami to take stand over arrests
By Paul Hughes
TEHRAN: Reformist Iranian lawmakers on Wednesday urged President Mohammad Khatami to take a firm stand over an apparent mass round up of students following this month’s protests against clerical rule in the Islamic Republic.
Student leaders and legislators have said hundreds of students have been arrested in cities across the country in recent days by plainclothes security officials. The whereabouts of many of those detained is still unknown, they say.
While defending people’s right to protest, pro-reform Khatami — whom protesters called on to resign during the recent demonstrations in Tehran and other cities — has said little about the recent arrests.
When asked to comment on Wednesday, he told reporters: “In this country criticism should be free, the right of protest should be free. But everything should be in the framework of the law.” He not make clear whether his reference to the law applied to the actions of the protesters or the security forces.
MPs said Khatami, whose popularity has slumped in recent years due to the slow pace of reform in Iran, had a duty to live up to his 1997 and 2001 election pledges to bring greater democracy, justice and social freedoms.
“What we are expecting from Khatami is to fulfil his promises and to fulfil the slogans which drew people to the polls at the time of his election,” lawmaker Nouredin Pirmoazen told Reuters.
Khatami’s failure to overcome stiff resistance to change from conservative clerics who occupy powerful unelected positions in Iran’s complex political structure has created widespread disillusionment among Iranians, 70 percent of whom are under the age of 30.
Some 25 MPs from the reformist-dominated parliament wrote a letter to Khatami on Tuesday asking him to attend a closed-door meeting with lawmakers to discuss the recent arrests.
“We are asking the president to announce his stance more clearly than before ... merely expressing regret will not solve anything,” Tehran MP Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoini was quoted as saying in the reformist Tosea newspaper on Wednesday.
“If Khatami is not able to do anything, he could tell the people where the problem lies. Then, at least, the MPs could find a way to solve the problem,” Khoini said.
Diplomats say the recent arrests appear to be aimed at preventing further unrest erupting around the July 9 anniversary of a violent 1999 attack on a Tehran University dormitory by hard line vigilantes fiercely loyal to Iran’s conservative clerical establishment.
Politicians said it was not clear which security organisation had carried out the students’ arrests. Intelligence ministry and police officials have said they only have a handful of students in their custody.
“As President Khatami has said, a government has been formed inside the government, and some organisations are arresting citizens,” Hadi Qabel, head of the reformist Participation Front party in the city of Qom told Tosea.
“Right now, a lot of families are worried about the whereabouts of their children... It seems the arrested students will not be released before July 9,” he said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week echoed vocal US support for the pro-democracy protesters in Iran. Iran has accused Washington of gross interference in its internal affairs and on Tuesday summoned British Ambassador Richard Dalton to the Foreign Ministry to protest Blair’s “irresponsible” remarks. —Reuters