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Iran condemns Oxford scholarship named after dead protester
The Iranian Embassy has accused Oxford University of a "politically motivated move" in the creation of a Queen's College scholarship made in memory of Neda Agha-Soltan, an Iranian student killed in Tehran in post-election protests earlier this year.
In a letter sent to The Provost of Queen's College, Paul Madden, Iranian authorities condemned the creation of the Graduate Scholarship in Philosophy because, they argue, in using Agha-Soltan's name the University appears to be making a political statement.
Neda Agha-Soltan, a 27-year-old Iranian philosophy student, was killed in Tehran on 20 June during the protests over the outcome of the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Queen's College set up a scholarship in her name after two donations which would provide the amount of money required to pay the graduate fee. Currently a student studying the Philosophy of Physics has the scholarship.
The name "Agha-Soltan" has become a political symbol since the summer's election violence. Her death was caught on camera and spread amongst the world's media. It has become an important example amongst those who accuse the current Iranian regime of repression during the post-election rioting. Many Iranian bloggers refer to Agha-Soltan as the "angel of freedom".
The Iranian authorities insist the student's death took place far from the scene of the protests and are angry that the University might be seen to be endorsing protest against their regime.
In a press release with the scholarship's announcement, college authorities did not refer to any political dimension in its creation saying, "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."
The Provost of Queen's College, Professor Paul Madden added, "The college is keen to support graduate students, and this scholarship will help Iranian students to study at Oxford, regardless of their financial background. Donors make their own decisions, within reason, on how to name scholarships that they fund. In this case, the donor who was instrumental in establishing the scholarship is a British citizen and is well known to the college."
The letter sent by Iran to the College is reported to have further said, "The involvement of the university in Iran's internal affairs, particularly in the country's post-election events of which the British media played a leading role, would lead to the loss of the university's scientific prestige and academic goals."
The University of Oxford has stated, "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."