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Iran Students Narrate Beatings

By Afshin Valinejad

TEHRAN, Iran, February 29, 2000 (AP) An ex-police chief accused of ordering a brutal crackdown on university students went on trial Tuesday in a landmark civil rights case in Iran, where reformists are urging respect for laws often flouted by hard-line vigilantes.

One student testified he was beaten by police and vigilantes and thrown out a third-floor dormitory window. Another showed the judge his hollow eye socket, saying he had been hit by a tear gas canister.

''It was a nightmare,'' said a third student, Ali Noruzi, who suffered a broken leg. ''The word cruelty doesn't describe what they did. They beat us with sticks, iron pipes, chains.''

Brig. Gen. Farhad Nazari, the main defendant, sat impassively, but some of the 19 other accused smiled as nine students testified against them, describing the July 1999 events in horrific detail.

The trial signals that Iranian authorities are willing to punish hard-liners who take the law into their own hands, usually with the help of vigilantes.

This is the first case to try any of the officers who ordered or took part in the July 9 raid on a Tehran University hostel to end a peaceful demonstration by students protesting the closure of a reformist newspaper.

The crackdown provoked six days of massive demonstrations in several major cities in Iran -- the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution that installed the clergy's rule. Four days after the first raid, police again used force to end the protests.

Three people were killed in the unrest -- a student, a cleric and a soldier -- and more than 200 were wounded.

One month later, Nazari, 36, was dismissed as Tehran police chief. He was charged with ordering illegal entry, ignoring the orders of his superiors and sullying the police image. The others -- 11 officers and eight unranked policemen -- were charged with being accomplices and destroying public property. They face jail sentences of unspecified lengths.

Raamin Karimi, who walked to the stand with the aid of a crutch, testified that vigilantes and uniformed policemen dragged him from his third-floor room in the early hours of July 9. The corridor was filled with police who beat him with sticks then threw his semiconscious and bloodied body out a window.

''By chance my head hit the grass, but the rest of my body hit the concrete,'' said Karimi, a law student in his final year. His right leg and an arm were broken in more than a dozen places, he said.

Navid Moqarrab said police provided cover to a teen-age vigilante who beat him with an iron rod.

In the second wave of violence on July 12, Mohsen Jamali, a final-year ophthalmology student, lost his eye. He said he was returning to the hostel from work at an eye hospital when he was caught in a ''shower of tear gas canisters'' fired by police.

He was hit in the eye and lost consciousness, he said. He lifted a patch to show Judge Hadi Tabatabai a hollow right socket.

Two sisters of the student who was killed, Ezzat Ibrahimnejad, were among about 100 people who attended Tuesday's session. They carried Ibrahimnejad's picture, and one sister shouted at Nazari: ''We will not leave you. If we don't get justice even our grandchildren will pursue this case.'' She did not give her name.

The second hearing in the trial, being held in a military judicial complex, is set for Saturday.

Student groups have complained that authorities were quick to try leaders of the demonstrations that followed the dormitory raid -- sentencing three of them to death -- while none of the vigilantes who joined police in the raid have been indicted.

The protests following the raid strengthened reformists, who won 170 seats in the Feb. 18 elections for the 290-member Majlis, or parliament. Hard-liners and conservatives won 45 seats, and independents won 10. Another 65 seats are to be decided in run-off elections in April.

The reformist movement took off after President Mohammad Khatami came to power in 1997 and started a campaign of cultural, social and political reforms.