Students reject embassy’s complaints

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A Norwegian students’ organization is fending off pressure from the Iranian Embassy in Oslo to remove posters that the organization has spread to all colleges and universities around the country. The embassy finds the posters offensive because they depict the late Ayatollah Khomeini on the run from protesting students.

This poster, which has spread to universities and colleges around Norway and beyond, has upset officials at the Iranian Embassy in Oslo. PHOTO: SAIH

The poster is part of an annual campaign by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (Studentenes og akademikernes internasjonale hjelpefond, SAIH), which this year is concentrating on students’ role as critics and builders of democracy. The campaign aims to boost awareness of students around the world who are subjected to censorship, persecuted and imprisoned for their social commitment.

The poster, resembling a vintage Hollywood movie bill, depicts Khomeini along with dictators Adolph Hitler, Moammar Gadhafi, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-il and Joseph Stalin looking frightened and running away from students dressed in caps and gowns and fighting for freedom and peace.

The Iranian Embassy in Oslo sent an e-mail to SAIH after the posters started appearing in Norwegian towns and cities, stating that “Unfortunately, the poster contains a picture of our great late leader Imam Khomeini, next to dictators like Hitler. You have offended the feelings of a great nation.” The mail was sent by the press spokesman for the embassy, Mohammad Javad Hosseini.

The mail went on to state that the embassy “strongly protests” the use of Khomeini’s image “and wants your organization to remove this picture as soon as possible.”

Anette Remme, president of SAIH, said in a press release issued by SAIH that she finds the reaction of the Iranian Embassy “to be both provocative and unacceptable.” SAIH leaders responded by spreading the poster further via e-mail to media outlets, and it’s also been spreading rapidly via social media.

Erik Schreiner Evans, deputy leader of SAIH, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday that the Iranian officials haven’t understood what freedom of expression involves. He said he and other SAIH leaders were “surprised” when the mail arrived from the embassy last week and they’re rejecting what he calls the embassy’s attempt to censor them.

“This only shows that the embassy doesn’t respect freedom of expression, nor has it understood it,” Schreiner Evans told NRK. “Their message illustrates exactly the problem we’re trying to focus on.”

Reaction has also come from Iranian students both for and against the poster. Several praise SAIH’s campaign but Remme told newspaper Aftenposten that they’re afraid to go public for fear of reaction at home in Iran. She added that SAIH isn’t trying to “demonize” Iran or other states, nor is SAIH’s message about individuals in the photo, “but about a range of undemocratic leaders. They all have human rights violations on their conscience and they have felt threatened by students as opponents.”

Other Iranian students have criticized the poster, with one saying it was “stupid” to depict Khomeini alongside brutal dictators from other countries. He called the poster “an offense to me and other Muslims.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund