By Roozbeh Mirebrahimi
Published in Roozonline - 2007.10.09
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was to be at Tehran University to deliver a speech on the first day of the new academic year. There will be questions by students and if they are allowed to freely raise them, Ahmadinejad will have to respond to 20 issues that the central council of Daftare Tahkim Vahdat student organization – the largest in the country – has publicly announced. The central theme of the questions is this: What is the meaning of freedom of speech in your [the President’s] opinion, and where is the manifestation of this “matchless freedom in Iran” that you proclaimed at New York’s Columbia University last month. This event was originally scheduled for last week, but was rescheduled for unexplained reasons. The close timing of the student organization’s announcement of its questions and the initial cancellation of the presidential event, raise the possibility that the two events were related. In the beginning of last week it was officially announced that President Ahmadinejad would speak at the university on Monday. Then Daftare Tahkim Vahdat student organization issued its second open letter in which it again requested to participate in the President’s meeting and announced its 20 questions.The authors of the letter welcomed Ahmadinejad’s invitation of US President to come to Iran and deliver a speech, as they also welcomed any measure that would be effective in reducing the possibility of a dangerous war in Iran. “But how is it that it is okay for the American President to come to Iranian universities, but critical teachers and students do not have the right to express their views at these very universities?” it asked. “Hundreds of requests for permits for speeches have been ignored by the university’s cultural council. What argument supports the notion that Bush can come and speak at our university while our intellectuals are denied the same right? What is the justification for releasing British sailors who were labeled invaders, while our teachers, students, workers and journalists are punished for a single criticism?” continues the letter.“Mr. Ahmadinejad. Since officials are doing their utmost to prevent us from entering the university hall to participate in this event, and even engage in stopping us from organizing a separate gathering outside the presidential event while security agencies make repeated contacts with students to dissuade them from even going to Tehran University on the day of the President’s speech, we will raise our questions now with the hope that we will hear the responses at the meeting and raise other questions at the event”, the letter further reads.
The 20 Questions
The central council of the Daftare Tahkim Vahdat which represents all university organizations of the country presents the following 20 questions to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
1. Three students with the names of Ehsan Mansouri, Majid Tavakoli and Ahmad Shasaban, who are members of this organization, have been in prison for more than 5 months now over charges of publishing sham publications. Many believe that these fake publications were published by your supporters to avenge the students. At the last court hearing of these three students, the subject of the criticism that was raised against you at Amir Kabir University was brought up. In view of this, how could you claim at Columbia University in New York that the students who criticized you at Amir Kabir University have not been confronted?
2. With the start of the work of the ninth administration, the policy of ranking activist students with stars was launched, and students that received stars have been deprived of their education. This year, this policy was extended to ethnic and religious minorities, and the teacher participants in the national university entrance examinations. As a matter of fact, on what legal, moral, or human basis are students and other dissidents and minorities deprived of their education by agencies under your control?
3. Racial discrimination was practiced at this year’s the national university entrance examinations and a group of women were either denied admission to universities or admitted to institutions in remote regions of the country even though they had higher scores than men participants. This issue was confirmed by the relevant agency, i.e. the Sazemane Sanjesh Amuzesh Keshvar (the National Educational Testing Organization). On what legal basis is such racial discrimination pursued and can it have any meaning other than the blatant violation of women’s rights?
4. According to authorities at the Ministry of Science, the annual university budget has been reduced this year. This is despite the 25 percent growth in the student body, and in spite of the growing annual rate of inflation. As a result, we are witness to the deteriorating living and education conditions across the universities in the country. Why and on what grounds must we witness the reduction of university budgets while the government’s revenues are astoundingly on the rise?
5. During your 2 years in office, 550 students have been summoned by disciplinary committees, 43 student bodies have been shut down, more than 130 student publications have been banned and more than 70 members of this organization have been detained. And the fault of these individuals, organization and publications is that they have criticized the imprudence and mismanagement exercised by the officials of the ninth administration. Today, there remains no organization that is critical of the government. All such organizations have either been suspended, dissolved or are on the verge of dissolution. So what is the meaning of freedom of speech in your opinion, and where is the manifestation of this “matchless freedom in Iran” that you proclaimed at New York’s Columbia University last month?
6. During your administration more than a 100 nationally prominent university professors have been forcefully retired or expelled under various pretexts. For the first time in the history of higher education a person without a university degree was installed as the president of the university who has used the level of a person’s support for the government faction as the criteria to hire professors. In all honesty, while the overriding majority of experts believe that the country’s universities suffer from a shortage of professors and Iranian universities have no place among the top 2,000 institutions of higher education around the world, what is the meaning of such treatment of professors?
7. Archives of official and government news agencies demonstrate that during 2 years of your administration, workers and many teachers have been imprisoned and have lost their jobs for asking for their professional rights and meager higher salaries. Please provide a response to the question when and how is your support of the deprived low income strata of society going to materialize?8. Numerous publications and news agencies face closure and are banned with any criticism of the government. Iran’s Labor News Agency (ILNA) is filtered because of a protest from the ministry of science and the ministry of the interior; Baztab Internet news site has been shut down because of a government protest; Shargh and Ham-Mihan newspapers faced government objections and were shut down; Etemad and Etemad Melli newspapers currently face government complaints. Journalists who write on human rights, student affairs, ethnic issues, and women’s subjects face various pressures from state security agencies while the ministry of Islamic guidance and ministry of intelligence exert devastating pressure on the managers of the media so that the latter refrain from publishing factual reports. Because of the advice of the Supreme National Security Council the press is banned from writing about various public issues. Iran newspaper has turned into a government bulletin. The managers of Iran’s student news agency – ISNA student news agency – face a double pressure to suppress the unlawful confrontations with the students. What is the reason for such extensive pressure and suppression of the media and news agencies and till when are such tactics going to continue?
9. Political parties that question government policies have faced the strongest pressures during your administration. The offices of Daftare Sazemane Danesh Amookhtegane Iran Islami (Advar Tahkim Vahdat student organization) were sealed through an armed assault. The repeated efforts of its members have not produced any results while no legal justification for this act has been presented. Subsidies to political parties have been ended and the ministry of Islamic guidance refrains from issuing operational licenses to reformist parties such as Jebhe Mosharekat Iran Islami (Islamic Iran Participation Party) and Sazemane Mojahedin Enghelab-e Islami (Organization of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution). This is while all modern societies today accept parties as a foundation of democracy. We request you to explain what you meant by vomit-able democracy that you had recently mentioned and explain what is its difference with the democracy that you defended in America. In your opinion, is democracy even possible without independent and vibrant political parties?
10. While half of the population of the country is made up of women, and in lieu of the sexual discrimination exercised against women participants in the national university testing examinations, the ninth government has blatantly violated women’s rights by presenting a draft to regulate family rights. This measure is undertaken at a time when activists who work on women’s rights issues such as equal blood money, equal inheritance, and opposition to polygyny face the severest punishment and are sent to prison. Our question is what other meaning can this violent confrontation with women activists on one hand and the presentation of a bill to the parliament which is opposed by the Majlis on the other, have than a negative attitude towards women’s rights?
11. You participated in the presidential elections with two promises: bring oil money to the people’s dinning tables and battle discrimination and corruption. But according to reliable sources, corruption among Iranian officials has been on the rise during the last two years and Iran is confronted with a 15 fold increase in corruption. People’s living conditions are shameful. We would like to know that while less than two years are left to the end of your administration, when will the elections promises be fulfilled?
12. Due to rising oil prices which are linked to your policies have increased the country’s oil revenues during the last 2 years to equal the revenues of all the 8 years of the Khatami administration and 8 years of the Rafsanjani administration, announce quantitatively, and not qualitatively, how has this increased revenue been used? How many development projects have begun and how many infrastructure projects been completed?
13. Because of the erroneous policies of the government and despite the huge oil revenues, the economic growth of the country is 2 percent less than the plans in the fourth development plan, which means a loss of 70,000 billion Toman during the five-year period. This means every Iranian has been deprived of approximately one million Toman. Do you know that some of these people cannot make their daily ends meet and cannot even imagine one million Toman revenues and that the benefits of justice that you promised through so much hue and cry is much less than this amount? This is the state of affairs while a meager three hundred billion Toman can meet the budget of all Iranian universities.
14. Because of the government wrong policies we witness a rapid inflation in the housing sector which according to officials of the ninth administration is the result of bad government policies. The results of these policies are so bad that authorities publicly declare that the public should not be even thinking of house ownership in large cities. Do you know that the problem of marriage that many young people face is centered in housing?
15. While the massacre of Jews during World War II is a bitter and undeniable historic event, why do you pursue this issue to this extent? Is the Holocaust the major calamity facing mankind? Even if we assume your goal is to defend the people of Palestine, does this focus on the Holocaust solve any of their problems?
16. What is the purpose of your crises-prone remarks about the nuclear policy which is even opposed by your own comrades in thought is at times in confrontation with the official position of the state which baffles even the diplomacy apparatus of the country?
17. What is the purpose of repeated trips to Latin American countries and the generous but unaccountable promises to the people of those countries? What are the benefits of these to the country?
18. What is the reason for the silence over the extortious demands of China and Russia and the extension of large economic privileges to them? Isn’t it that these wrong policies deplete the country’s only resource, while both countries eventually vote favorably for resolutions against Iran? What is the reason for selling gas to India and Pakistan at prices lower than the minimum going prices?
19. What was the purpose of arresting the British sailors and taking thousands of positions against them and then suddenly releasing them? Why did this happen soon after the threat by the British Prime Minister?
20. The final question is that your comments at Columbia University in New York, and your other statements at foreign press conferences contradict your behavior, goals and positions. What can be the reasons for this contradiction? Can any one conclude other than that these goals and behavior are not defendable and undoubtedly will lead to even more destructive consequences than what has already happened? As a principle, what other conclusion can one reach than that taking the public for being stupid?
Prior to this statement and with the announcement of the news that the president would speak at Tehran University, Daftare Tahkim Vahdat student organization had written a letter to the president and strongly criticized him for the absence of freedom of speech in Iran and requested that just one member of the student group be allowed to participate in the university and ask questions of the president.
Last year, during a similar event when the president was delivering a speech at Amir Kabir University, a group of students changed “Death to the Dictator” and put his portraits on fire. Soon after that, a group of students were arrested on charges of publishing insulting articles. Daftare Tahkim Vahdat announced that the articles were fake and that the arrest of students was a revengeful act by supporters of the president Ahmadinejad in connection with the Amir Kabir University event.