Academics arrested as Iran crackdown escalates

Seventy reformist scholars are detained by the authorities, writes John Gill

June 26, 2009

Seventy university professors have been detained in Iran as part of a widening government crackdown on protesters, according to reports.

The arrests, which raise serious concerns about restrictions on academic freedom in the country, follow claims that Iran’s leading opposition figure, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was robbed of victory in a rigged presidential election.

Hundreds of protesters and activists are believed to have been taken into custody since the vote on 12 June, which saw Iran’s ruling clerics declare President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline incumbent, the winner by a landslide margin.

The academics are reported to have been arrested following a meeting with Mr Mousavi on 24 June.

They are said to be part of a group pressing for a more liberal form of government in Iran.

Ali Ansari, director of the Iranian Institute at the University of St Andrews, told Times Higher Education that it was almost inevitable that universities and academics would be in the firing line during the crackdown.

“A lot of professors have resigned – I think 150 from two different institutions – but as far as we know these are the first arrests – at least, they are the first that have been announced,” he said.

“Academics will be a target, they always are – authoritarian governments always target institutions of higher education, they’re usually the first to be attacked.”

In recent days, demonstrators challenging the election result have found activism to be increasingly perilous as a result of the violent crackdown.

At least 17 protesters have been killed, and a march of mourning to commemorate their deaths has been postponed for a week, according to reports. Mahdi Karroubi, a reformist presidential candidate, said that organisers had not been given government permission to hold the rally.

The final tally in the contentious vote was 62.6 per cent for Mr Ahmadinejad and 33.75 per cent for Mr Mousavi. The result is widely believed to have been much closer.

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