Human Rights News

Letter to Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei

July 13, 1999  
H.E. Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei  
Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran  
Tehran, Iran  
Your Excellency,  
Human Rights Watch strongly condemns the brutal assault on students at Tehran University halls of residence in the early hours of Friday July 9, 1999 by police and members of the Ansar-e Hezbollah. At least one visitor to the dormitory is known to have been killed by gunfire during the assault, although unconfirmed reports place the number of dead at four. Many others were beaten and wounded and hundreds were reportedly detained. The assault on the dormitory, when the students were sleeping, was in response to a peaceful protest on Thursday July 8 against the closure of Salam newspaper, a popular daily identified with the cause of political reform, and attempts by the parliament to restrict freedom of the press by proposing restrictive draft amendments to the press law.

" This is what happens when the state allows armed civilian groups to take the law into their own hands. Ayatollah Khamenei must act swiftly to ensure ordinary Iranians are protected against such lawlessness. "
Hanny Megally, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch
The demonstration on July 8 involved a few hundred students. Eye witnesses told Human Rights Watch that police officers observed the demonstration but did not intervene, and the students returned to their dormitory without incident. It appears that at about 4.30 am on July 9, police allowed members of Ansar-e Hezbollah to enter the dormitory. They attacked students and attemped to take some of them away. Students reportedly responded by fighting the attackers and protesting the abduction of their colleagues. As the conflict escalated, 300 armed police entered the campus shooting in the air and firing tear gas. The students were driven back into their dormitories. At this point, hundreds of purported members of the Ansar-e Hezbollah were admitted to the dormitory buildings and systematically ransacked student rooms, destroyed property and assaulted students. During this assault, according to the independent newspaper Neshat, 300 students were wounded, 400 taken into detention and four were killed. By 7.00 am the clash was over. After Friday prayers at midday on July 9, students held a rally on the university campus to protest the assault on the dormitory. Hezbollah again attacked with sticks and chains while the police reportedly stood by or joined in the attacks.  
Your Excellency, these events yet again highlight the role of organized civilian groups claiming religious authority to carry out acts of violence and lawlessness, and the close collaboration with these groups of police and security forces. These actions contribute to the acute problem of lack of accountability on the part of the police and law enforcement personnel. Human Rights Watch calls on Your Excellency to ensure that a thorough, public, and independent inquiry is carried out into the events of July 9, and that those responsible for wrong-doing are identified and brought to justice. In this regard, Human Rights Watch welcomes the July 10 statement of the Supreme National Security Council calling for a comprehensive inquiry into the incident, and for holding accountable those responsible. We urge you to ensure that these directives are carried out immediately.  
All those responsible for assaulting students and taking part in other illegal acts should be prosecuted. The role of Tehran police chief General Hedayat Lotfian, who has been identified in press accounts as the officer responsible for ordering the assault on the campus, should be made clear. If it turns out that he was acting on orders from higher authorities, then those responsible should also be identified and held accountable. Law enforcement personnel should protect citizens from the lawless actions of violent organized civilians and never act in collusion with them. Finally, all students detained in this illegal action who have not been charged with any internationally recognizable crime should be released.  
Insofar as the Minister of the Interior, Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari, has stated that the assault on the campus took place without the ministry's approval, Your Excellency should take steps to ensure that authority over law-enforcement personnel resides with responsible government officials, in accordance with the law, and subject to judicial oversight.  
Your Excellency, the themes of accountability and upholding the rule of law lie at the root of the events at Tehran University on July 9, 1999. Since September 1998 dozens of newspapers have been closed down in proceedings that violated the law. The closure of Salam newspaper, which initiated the students' protest, was triggered by that newspaper's reporting of the alleged role of Saeed Emami, a high ranking Ministry of Information official, in efforts by the parliament to restrict freedom of the press. Mr. Emami was implicated in the killings of writers and intellectuals in 1998 and is alleged to have committed suicide in prison in late June 1999. Newspapers have been at the forefront of efforts to expose official involvement in the killings of a number of journalists and intellectuals at the end of 1998.  
Your Excellency, as Leader of the Islamic Republic, you are constitutionally responsible for overseing the functioning of all branches of the government. The executive branch of government cannot fulfill its proper functions as long as the institutions under your supervision fail to comply with their obligations under Iranian and international law. You should exercise your authority to ensure that officials implicated in illegal assaults and killings are exposed and prosecuted, to ensure that freedom of the press is respected, and to ensure that law enforcement operations are carried out in accordance with the law. Upholding the rule of law, and respecting the rights and freedoms of citizens are among your duties as Leader.  
Hanny Megally  
Executive Director  
Middle East and North Africa Division  
Human Rights Watch