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Iran students recall brutal raid in trial of ex-officers

TEHRAN, Iran -- An ex-police chief and 19 former subordinates on trial in July's raid on an Iranian university dormitory listened impassively as witnesses testified Saturday of brutal beatings and hallways slippery with blood.

Defense lawyer Mohsen Rahami told the court that one student, Gholamreza Mahmoudi, was beaten by unidentified assailants after testifying of police brutality when the trial opened Tuesday.In Saturday's session, Mohsen Shafii-Pour, an industrial design student, recounted the July 9 raid on a Tehran University dormitory. "The whole area of the dormitory was full of tear gas, and we couldn't breathe," he said. "The floor was slippery from the blood of injured students who were being beaten and then arrested by police."

Brig. Gen. Farhad Nazari, the main defendant, and the 19 other accused sat calmly and listened to the testimony.

This is the first case to try any of the officers involved in the July 9 raid 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 died 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 image of the police. The others -- 11 officers and eight unranked policemen -- were charged with being accomplices and destroying public property. They face jail sentences of unspecified lengths.

Several students gave emotional testimonies Saturday of being beaten by police or Islamic vigilantes.

Alireza Zamani, an industrial management student, said police broke into his room and dragged him out. Outside, the corridor was lined with policemen who were beating other students. Zamani said he was hit on the head with a baton when he bent to pick up his glasses from the floor.

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 main people involved in the incident are not being tried here," defense lawyer Rahami said. "The case has been limited to one commander and a few officers and soldiers."

Protests following the July 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.