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Heard This Week - 05/25/2006

Heard in Iran This Week
on Radio Farda

(Prague, Czech Republic -- May 25, 2006) Radio Farda's major stories this week were demonstrations by the Azeri minority in northern Iran, new student protests in Tehran, and a draconian campaign against panhandlers in the Iranian capital.

>> A cartoon published May 12 in the government weekly "Iran Jome" sparked angry protests that gathering strength in Tabriz -- a city inhabited mainly by ethnic Azeris, who make up the majority of the population in northwestern Iran and are Iran's largest minority group. The cartoon depicted a conversation between a cockroach and a little boy. The speech bubble from the cockroach was in the Azeri language and Azeri readers interpreted it as likening Azeris to cockroaches. The newspaper issued an apology May 19 -- but the protests have continued.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Tabriz on May 22, hurling stones and smashing windows. Radio Farda spoke by phone to an independent journalist in Tabriz who said several bank buildings, cars and motorbikes were set afire and that police used teargas to try to disperse the crowd. On May 23, the cartoonist, Mana Neyestani, and the editor of "Iran Jome," Mehrdad Ghasemfar, were arrested and imprisoned in Tehran and the newspaper closed down.
On May 24, Radio Farda took an in-depth look at the region's underlying ethnic, economic and cultural tensions during its evening "News Magazine" program. Radio Farda broadcaster Toumaj Tahbaz talked to an Azeri intellectual living in Tabriz, who did not wish to be identified, who said the cartoon was merely the last drop that made the cup of ethnic tensions overflow. According to the interviewee, many Azeris living in Iran feel they are being treated as second-class citizens and that their rights under Article 15 of the Iranian constitution are not being observed. Radio Farda also interviewed well-known Iranian cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar, who left Iran three years ago and now lives in Canada; Kowsar's work has been published in "The New York Times." He said Neyestani's cockroach cartoon had been misinterpreted and was not meant to be disrespectful and how carefully cartoonists have to balance humor and cultural sensitivities.

>> Student protests broke out anew this past week at two universities in Tehran. At Tehran University, students demonstrated May 23 and May 24 against the dismissal of five professors. Radio Farda spoke with one of the reformist students, who said that dozens of youths suffered injuries and several were in serious condition after police and security used force to break up the Tuesday demonstration,. He said tensions have been mounting all this week between reformist and pro-government, hardline Islamic students and that protests continued at the university dormitory Wednesday with students chanting "Death to Reaction and Dictatorship," and "We Don't Want the Islam of the Taliban." Radio Farda also quoted the Tehran police chief as saying 40 police officers were hurt in the clashes.
In a separate incident of student unrest May 23, a student on the campus of Amir Kabir University told Radio Farda that some 2,000 students staged a demonstration in protest against an attempt by members of the Islamic Basij movement to bar elected reformist student representatives from holding seats in university councils. He said security forces attacked the protesting students and that more than 70 students were injured and 15 students are reported missing.

>> An effort by Tehran municipal authorities to rid the city of panhandlers and beggars was the focus of a Radio Farda program May 19. According to official reports, the city has arrested 165 beggars and put them in prison. A Tehran correspondent for Radio Farda interviewed a panhandler, who said poverty gave him no alternative but to beg on the streets and called on the government to provide some sort of social program "or we will be forced into less decent activity." A Tehran journalist contacted by Radio Farda said panhandling in Tehran has changed in recent years, with many beggars posing as peddlers. A leading Tehran sociologist interviewed by Radio Farda said beggars have proliferated as a result of ill-conceived social policy, adding that panhandling in Tehran often serves as a cover for drug-trafficking and other criminal conduct.

For more on these and other stories about Iran, please visit: -- Radio Farda's Persian-language website -- "Focus on Farda" bi-weekly review -- "RFE/RL Iran Report" weekly analysis -- RFE/RL English-language coverage of Iran

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