Harvard students protest Khatami visit

Demonstrators accuse Iranian ex-president of human rights violations.

khatami protest 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
khatami protest 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's visit to Harvard University on Sunday was met by protesters, many of whom called on him to stand up for human rights. Police estimated about 200 people protested, some carrying signs that said "Iran supports terror." Khatami was considered a reformer during his two terms as president that ended last year, but his visit to the United States drew criticism from some politicians. Many protesters outside the speech at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, blamed Khatami for failing to stop government crackdowns on student activists in Tehran during his two terms in office. Several human rights organizations say the crackdowns are believed to have been initiated by his rivals and approved by Iran's ruling Muslim clerics. "His speech is on ethics and violence. It would be very bizarre if he came here to speak on ethics and violence and did not acknowledge and discuss his own record in Iran," said 21-year-old Harvard student Eric Lesser. "Students were arrested and thrown in prison for speaking their mind in the same way we're doing right now." Lesser is president of Harvard College Democrats, who teamed with their Republican peers for the protest. No problems were reported, but police presence was heavy, according to Cambridge police spokesman Frank Pasquarello. One man was detained, though it was not immediately clear why. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2008, criticized the visit and ordered state agencies to not cooperate if asked, for assistance. State Police, for example, did not provide an escort as they normally would to a visiting dignitary. Cambridge police drove with Khatami's motorcade. Lesser, though, defended the former president's right to speak. "Bullets and bombs are important in the war on terrorism, but it's also a war of ideas. We need to win hearts and minds of reformers in the Middle East," he said.