The Iranian Embassy has accused Oxford University of a “politically motivated move” following the establishment of a scholarship made in honour of an Iranian student killed during post-election unrest in Tehran earlier this year.
Neda Agha-Soltan, a 27 year old Philosophy student, was shot dead at an anti-government protest in June and has since become a symbol of the opposition movement in Iran.
Opposition supporters say the 12th June poll was rigged to ensure the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At least 30 protesters have been killed in clashes since then. Thousands have been arrested and some 200 opposition activists remain behind bars.
An amateur video of Ms Soltan’s last moments, lying bleeding on the ground, was broadcast around the world after being posted on the internet. Eyewitnesses say a member of the government militia shot her. Her image has since been widely used by the opposition.
The Iranian authorities insist, nevertheless, that Agha-Soltan’s death took place far from the scene of the protests, and are incensed that Oxford University might be seen to be endorsing protest against their regime.
In a letter sent to Paul Madden, the Provost of Queen’s College Oxford, Iranian authorities condemned the creation of the Graduate Scholarship in Philosophy. The letter said that the involvement of the university in Iran’s internal affairs would “highly politicize your academic institution, undermining your scientific credibility” and place Oxford “at odds with the rest of the world’s academic institutions.”
A press release announcing the scholarship said: “Oxford is increasingly losing out to its competitors in the race to recruit top graduate students. Donations such as those that have enabled us to create the Neda Agha-Soltan Scholarship are absolutely vital for us to continue to attract and retain the best young minds.”
Madden added that “this scholarship will help Iranian students to study at Oxford, regardless of their financial background.”
The University of Oxford said: “The Chancellor of the University has not received a letter from the Iranian Embassy. This is a college matter and, since Oxford colleges are autonomous, did not involve the University at any stage.”