A storm of protest is expected to greet a controversial Iranian former president in Scotland next week amid growing opposition to his visit.
The move to honour Mohammad Khatami by St Andrews University has attracted a furious response from exiled Iranians, the Israeli government, politicians and students across the UK, who claim he ran a tyrannical regime.
He will receive an honorary degree when he officially opens the university’s Institute for Iranian Studies during his visit on Tuesday.
A university spokesman said Mr Khatami’s visit reflected the international standing of the institution and added that the historic seat of learning had received messages of support from senior government officers and politicians.
But angry cries were led by Laila Jazayeri of the Association of Anglo-Iranian Academics in the UK who attacked his human-rights record while in office.
She said: “Khatami has always been a central pillar of the theocratic and brutal regime in Iran, which is responsible for the execution of more than 120,000 Iranians.
“It is ironic that Khatami should be invited to St Andrews University when, during his presidency, the Iranian regime responded to the just demand of students for democracy by ordering vicious dawn attacks on dormitories.
“Students were beaten using knives, chains, and batons, resulting in fatalities and hundreds wounded. Some were even thrown out of the second and third floor windows.”
The move has also infuriated Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, who described the decision as a slur on Scotland. He said: “St Andrews University should be ashamed. Khatami’s presence in Scotland would be an insult to freedom, democracy, and human rights. I call upon Sir Menzies Campbell as chancellor of St Andrews University to withdraw the invitation to this odious man.”
Lior Ben Dor, spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London, said: “Although Mr Khatami is trying to demonstrate the nice and moderate face of Iran, we should bear in mind that even when he was the president, the regime in Iran continued developing its nuclear weapons, deceiving the international community.”
Lord Janner of Braunstone, a senior Jewish politician, also questioned whether the visit was appropriate, saying the former president had previously praised Hizbollah, the guerrilla group.
A spokesman for the Education Not for Sale students group, backed by the NUS, said it wanted the award to be withdrawn unless Ahmad Batebi, a student jailed in 1999 following pro-democracy protests, was freed.
A university spokesman said: “Far from being a slur on Scotland, Mr Khatami’s willingness to come to St Andrews as the most senior Iranian politician to visit the UK since the Shah over 30 years ago says much for the international standing and reputation of the university.”
Education Not for Sale is in fact a front group for the Alliance for Workers Liberty, while Laila Jazayeri is a supporter of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq cult. In protesting against Khatami’s visit they find themselves on the same side as the Tories, the Israeli embassy and Dean Godson of the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange.
Admirably, the St Andrews’ Students Association has come out in support of the decision to honour Khatami. They have stated:
“While it would be easy to oppose Khatami’s award on the basis of tensions which existed in Iran during his presidency, we believe Khatami himself predominantly adopted a brave stand to promote liberal values. This personal courage, combined with his subsequent work in building inter-faith dialogue and communication, coupled with his notable achievements as a scholar, make him a very suitable candidate for such an award.”