Campaign mocks treatment of Iran student leader

AP News
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Posted: Dec 13, 2009 1:14 PM

Supporters of Iran's opposition have posted hundreds of photos online of men in women's clothing to mock what they say was a government attempt to discredit a student leader by photographing him in a head scraf and woman's robe.

Majid Tavakoli was arrested in last week's large student-led protests after he gave a speech urging students to reject "tyranny," a call greeted by chants of "Death to the dictator." Pro-government media said he put on women's clothing in an attempt to escape authorities around his campus but was caught.

The Fars news agency, which is close to the elite Revolutionary Guard military force, published photos of Tavakoli wearing a black chador, the all-covering dress worn by devout Muslim women, and a blue head scarf around his unshaven, downcast face.

Iran's opposition fired back over the past week by inundating Web sites such as Facebook with pictures of men wearing head scarves and chadors.

Tavakoli's supporters accused authorities of forcing him into women's clothing and photographing him in an attempt to humiliate the activist and discredit the opposition.

Tavakoli is a member of the largest student organization advocating greater social and political freedoms in Iran and is a student at Tehran's Amir Kabir University, the site of one of the Dec. 7 protests the drew tens of thousand out on campuses and city squares around the country.

Students have been at the core of the pro-reform movement, which has accused authorities of rigging hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's June re-election, and last week's protests were the first significant show of force in about a month.

In the Web campaigns calling for Tavakoli's release, male supporters donned Islamic-style women's dress in hundreds of whimsical self-portraits. Many of them were bearded and smirking. Others held up V-for-victory signs and wore the green color that has become the opposition's emblem.

Some of the photos were clumsily altered to underscore opposition claims that the pictures of Tavakoli might have been digitally manipulated.

The Fars report quoted a pro-government student activist as saying that Tavakoli tried to flee in women's clothing and that his actions were a "permanent stain on the illegal student movement."

"He was always introduced as a brave guy, but this move proved his lack of power to resist and avoid paying the price for his own ideas," the activist, Abbas Ensani, was quoted as saying.

Fars is linked to the Revolutionary Guard, which played the lead role in putting down post-election demonstrations.

Tavakoli has been arrested on two previous occasions. After one of them, he was jailed for 15 months in 2007-2008 on a conviction of insulting Islam in a student newsletter.

He and two other students put on trial in that case told the court that the newsletter containing insults against an Islamic saint had been fabricated by hard-line students and attributed to reformist students in effort to defame them.