Wed, Oct 13, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Iranian government targets moderate academic bastion

AP and AFP, TEHRAN

Iran’s leader issued a decree that paves the way for a state takeover of the country’s largest private university, in a crushing blow to the nation’s moderates.

The Islamic Azad University is the center of power for former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatist and key supporter of Iran’s moderates. The institution, which was founded in 1982, was a major site for opposition protests against last year’s disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which opponents say was fraudulent.

On Monday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a decree declaring the university’s endowment — which keeps it financially independent — to be religiously illegitimate and therefore null and void.

The endowment, or vaqf in Farsi, was set up last year, shortly after the elections by the university board to keep the it independent in the face of the rising power of hardliners in the ruling system.

The university, which has more than one 1.3 million students in over 350 branches nationwide, allowed opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi free access to its huge resources during his election campaign, allowing his voice to be heard all over Iran.

Ever since, Ahmadinejad and his conservative camp have intensified efforts to strip Rafsanjani of this multibillion-dollar powerhouse.

The assets of the university are estimated to be around US$250 billion.

Meanwhile, the government said yesterday that two foreigners arrested for posing as journalists and interviewing the son of a woman facing execution by stoning are suspected of having links with anti-revolution groups.

“The two foreign nationals ... had tourist visas and connection with anti-revolution groups,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at his weekly media conference.

“Because of that they have been arrested and their case is being looked into,” he said in remarks translated in English by Press TV channel.

Mehmanparast insisted that the two posed as reporters and had been “preparing a report” of their meeting with the family of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, who is facing death by stoning over charges of adultery.

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