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Iran: The Court Acquits Policemen In Controversial Case

Almost all the law enforcement officers in Iran who were on trial for raiding a Tehran university dormitory last year were acquitted yesterday (Tuesday). The lenient court verdict surprised many observers. Newsline's Bill Samii takes another look at the case.

Prague, 12 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Disappointment and disbelief were the reaction in Iran to yesterday's court acquittal of all but two of the policemen who raided a university dormitory last summer. The July 1999 raid at Tehran University, in which police and vigilantes beat students demonstrating for press freedom, sparked nationwide unrest in Iran -- the worst in 20 years.

About 20 law enforcement officers, including Tehran police chief Farhad Nazari, faced charges in the trial, which started in February. Nazari was acquitted along with all but two of the accused. Those two, Farhad Arjomandi and Orudali Badrzadeh, were sentenced to two years in jail for breach of order and another 91 days in jail plus a fine for stealing an electric razor. Thirty-four students will receive compensation.

The sentencing surprised observers in Iran. Tehran attorney Nemat Ahmadi told RFE/RL he thinks the verdicts were too lenient: "I think the court has shown too much leniency. Although 65 percent of his [the police chief's] actions were self-sacrifice in this sacred scene, but because he was present at all time, and was the highest ranking officer, acquittal is unbelievable to me."

And Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor in Tehran, told RFE/RL that the verdict does not make sense.

"What is certain is that tens and hundreds of military personnel entered the university dormitory in military uniform. What is certain is that hundreds of students were beaten, and finally, we either have to say that these hundreds of military personnel entered without orders or they went in with a higher ranking officer's order. According to the court's verdict, none of the above took place," he said.

Other observers also registered disappointment. Ebrahim Sheikh, a representative of an Iranian student organization, said the students are "very disappointed that such an unjust ruling has been issued by the court." He said the men acquitted were responsible for throwing the university and the country into turmoil for five days.

Sedighe Vasmaghi, a member of the Tehran municipal council, told RFE/RL that the verdict raises questions about Iranian justice: "This [judicial] system is worrisome. Those responsible have to be answerable to these accusations. Did the military enter the dormitory by permission? Who has caused all these damages to the students? Who has caused these injuries? Who has committed the murder in the university?"

As Vasmaghi's questions indicate, the trial may be over, but the case is not closed. Government reports on the university incident describe the participation of individuals in plain clothes, presumably government agents but possibly members of the hardline Ansar-i Hizbullah pressure group. That subject was not part of the trial. Presiding Judge Tabatabai told state radio that the Tehran Military Court is still investigating those allegations.

(Siavash Ardalan of RFE/RL's Persian Service and Azam Gorgin contributed to this report.)