Iran condemns Oxford for honoring slain protester

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 4:01 PM

Iran has protested to an Oxford University college over a scholarship in memory of the slain Iranian student who became an icon of mass street protests sparked by the disputed June election.

In Tehran, a small group of hard-line women demonstrated Wednesday against the scholarship in front of the British Embassy. The women chanted "Death to Britain," the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Oxford's Queen's College established the Neda Agha Soltan Graduate Scholarship in Philosophy earlier this year, named for the 27-year-old student fatally shot on June 20 on the sidelines of a Tehran demonstration. Her dying moments were caught on a video viewed by millions on the Internet, and she became a potent symbol of the opposition's struggle.

"It seems that the University of Oxford has stepped up involvement in a politically motivated campaign which is not only in sharp contrast with academic objectives" but also linked to British interference in Iran's post-election turmoil, Iran's Embassy in London said in a letter to the provost of the British university's college. Queen's College confirmed it had received the letter dated Tuesday.

Iran has in the past accused Britain of playing a role in the protests following the June 12 presidential election and meddling in its internal affairs. The opposition said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election by fraud. But hard-liners have described the massive protests as a plot by Iran's enemies to overthrow the system of clerical rule through a 'velvet revolution.'

The Iranian letter said Soltan's "suspicious death" is still a criminal case being investigated by the police at home. It said she had been shot on an isolated street far from the protesters and her "murderers" had filmed her and her companions for 20 minutes before the killing.

The letter also mentioned Arash Hejazi, an Iranian doctor who was with Soltan at the time she was shot and said he tried to save her life. Hejazi is studying at Oxford and was visiting Iran at the time.

"Surprising, an Oxford fellow, Mr. Arash Hejazi, who had arrived in Iran two days before Neda's killing, was present on the scene when she was bleeding to death and immediately left for London the day after her horrible death," the letter said. "There is further supporting evidence indicating a pre-made scenario and other complications yet to be investigated.

In July, a couple weeks after Soltan's death, Iran's police chief said intelligence officials were seeking Hejazi. That came after Hejazi returned to London and told the BBC that Soltan apparently was shot by a member of the volunteer Basij militia, which is linked to Iran's powerful and elite Revolutionary Guard corps. Hejazi said protesters spotted an armed member of the militia on a motorcycle, and stopped and disarmed him.

Iranian police claimed this was a fabrication and the incident had nothing to do with the street riots. Police did not say why officials want Hejazi, but the regime repeatedly has implicated protesters and foreign agents in Soltan's death.

The protesters in Tehran Wednesday accused Hejazi of being behind Soltan's killing and demanded his extradition, even though he is not facing any charges in Iran.

"We want you to extradite Neda Agha Soltan Murderer" read a placard carried by the women. They also chanted "U.K. and U.S. perpetrators."

The provost of Queen's College, Paul Madden, said the names of scholarships were decided, "within reason," by donors. The college did not disclose the donors behind the Soltan scholarship, but said the key individual was a British citizen who is well known to the college.

The scholarship is open to all philosophy students, with preference given to Iranians and those of Iranian descent. The first holder is Arianne Shahvisi, studying for a master's degree in the philosophy of physics.