Students Plan to Protest Khatami's Visit

College Dems call on former Iranian president to apologize for human rights abuses during his presidency

Student protestors seeking amends for human rights abuses in Iran will greet former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami when he makes a highly scrutinized appearance at the Kennedy School of Government on Sunday.

Khatami, an Islamic cleric who led Iran from 1997 to 2005, is set to speak at 4 p.m. tomorrow on the “Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence” at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.

The Iran Freedom Concert Coalition, a student group that staged concerts to support Iranian dissidents last spring, is organizing the protest, which takes place when many Harvard College students are still away from Cambridge on summer recess.

“With all the concern over Iran’s nuclear program, we need to do whatever we can to keep the regime’s civil rights abuses in the spotlight,” one of the protest’s organizers, Adrian N. Gaty ’07, wrote in an e-mail. The protest is set to begin at 3 p.m. in the John F. Kennedy Park adjacent to the Kennedy School.

Khatami’s visit to Harvard has made national headlines ever since Massachusetts Gov. W. Mitt Romney announced on Tuesday that he would not allow any state agencies—including state police—to provide support for the event.

Romney called Harvard’s invitation of Khatami “a disgrace to the memory of all Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of extremists” and said state taxpayers should not fund any part of his visit.

Kennedy School officials have since made alternate security arrangements.

The visit has also sparked uproar at Harvard. Chabad Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, who opposes Khatami’s visit, told the Boston Herald that he had received e-mails and phone calls from offended alumni and students all over the world.

Harvard professors and students in particular have lambasted Khatami’s failure to act when several hundred protestors at Tehran University were arrested and tortured during a wave of protests in July 1999.

Harvard protestors tomorrow will demand the release of Tehran protestor Ahmed Batebi, who was initially charged with a death sentence for “endangering national security.” His sentence was later reduced to 10 years in prison following international outcry.

College Democrats President Eric P. Lesser ’07 said the group supports Khatami’s right to speak, but that it would be “hypocritical” for Khatami not to acknowledge Iran’s own human-rights abuses in his speech.

The group released a statement on Friday calling on Khatami to condemn the abuses and the actions of Khatami’s successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during the speech.

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student Mohammad Hafezi, a member of the Harvard Persian Society’s executive board and a native of Iran, said that he was “very happy” to have Khatami at Harvard.

“I disagree on a myriad of issues with him although I have lots of respect for him,” Hafezi wrote in an e-mail. “I hope his visit can initiate a dialogue between Iran and the U.S.”

Several Harvard professors and students who supported Khatami declined to speak on the record for fear that it would hurt their ability to travel to Iran in the future.

Some critics have denounced Harvard’s decision to allow Khatami to speak unfiltered before what is expected to be a packed forum.

Kennedy School lecturer William Kristol ’73 said the school should have only allowed Khatami to speak if he were part of a panel discussion with his critics.

“If Harvard’s going to give him the honor, they should at least ensure that he doesn’t get the chance to propagandize,” he said.

The Kennedy School has defended its decision, saying that Khatami’s visit “contributes to the free exchange of ideas that is a central part of the life of the University.”

Tickets to the event were distributed earlier this week through a lottery system. Attendees are expected to undergo intensive security at the event tomorrow.

After the speech, Khatami will take questions from the audience and also attend a small, invitation-only dinner and reception. The speech will be delivered in Persian and translated into English.



--Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at jhernand@fas.harvard.edu.