Iran's student leaders go on hunger strike

to protest imprisonment of their colleagues

Wed Jun 26, 3:19 PM ET

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran - Five student leaders began a hunger strike Wednesday to protest the imprisonment of their colleagues in a police raid three years ago.

The students held a sit-in in front of the main judiciary building in central Tehran, threatening to continue the hunger strike until their classmates were freed.

"We will continue our peaceful sit-in protest and hunger strike unless our classmates are freed," said Mahdi Aminizadeh, a member of the Office for Fostering Unity, Iran's largest pro-reform student group.

July 9 marks the third anniversary of the storming of a student hostel by police and hard-line Islamic vigilantes that left one student dead and at least 20 injured.

A military court acquitted the former Tehran police chief and 17 fellow police officers of ordering the pre-dawn raid. The vigilantes never stood trial. Students who had been beaten up and attacked were tossed into jail without charges.

The brutality of the raid caused a public outcry and triggered the biggest demonstrations seen in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"History will never forget the innocence of students and the injustices of the judiciary system against them. It is really a shame that the victims are behind bars and the attackers are free," Aminizadeh told The Associated Press.

Reformists have denounced the raid and the treatment of students by the hard-line judiciary.

"Justice has never been done to the students. Instead, imprisonment of students was rubbing salt into their wounds," said Mohsen Torkashvand, a reformist legislator. "The release of the students will partly heal their wounds and will promote national solidarity."

Students and independent media form the backbone of support for President Mohammad Khatami ( news - web sites)'s social and political reforms. The judiciary, controlled by hard-liners, has become the most powerful weapon undermining his program.

In the past two years, about 60 newspapers, almost all of them reformist publications, have been closed down and dozens of reformist students and political activists jailed on charges of insulting authorities.