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Iran denounces Oxford scholarship

Neda Agha Soltan
Neda Agha Soltan was shot in the chest during a protest in Tehran

Iran has criticised Oxford University after one of its colleges established a scholarship in honour of a woman killed during post-election unrest in June.

The Iranian embassy in London denounced the £4,000 ($6,600) Neda Agha-Soltan Graduate Scholarship offered by Queen's College as "politically motivated".

Queen's said the award would help impoverished Iranians study at Oxford.

Ms Soltan became a symbol of the opposition after she was shot dead at an anti-government protest in Tehran.

We believe that your college decision to abuse Neda's case to establish a graduate scholarship will highly politicise your academic institution, undermining your scientific credibility
Letter from Iranian embassy

Opposition supporters say the 12 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.

Three have so far been sentenced to death.

'Generous gifts'

In a letter published on Monday, the Iranian embassy warned Oxford University that establishing the scholarship in Ms Soltan's name would "highly politicise your academic institution, undermining your scientific credibility" and place "Oxford at odds with the rest of the world's academic institutions".

A photo showing Neda Agha-Soltan dying in Tehran on 20 June 2009

The embassy also reasserted its claim that Ms Soltan was killed "in an isolated street far from protestors on that day, where her murderers had filmed her and her companions 20 minutes before the incident".

Amateur video of Ms Soltan's last moments, lying bleeding on the ground, was broadcast around the world after being posted on the internet. Her image has since been widely used by the opposition.

Eyewitnesses say a member of a government militia shot her.

The Iranian embassy also alleged that an Oxford fellow, Mr Arash Hejazi, had been present in the area at the time of Ms Soltan's death, and left for London the next day.

In a statement on its website, Queen's College said scholarships were "absolutely vital" to attract the best students and that the Neda Agha-Soltan Graduate Scholarship had been set up after the college received "two generous gifts".

It was available to students of philosophy, with preference given to those of Iranian nationality or extraction, and covers the college's graduate fee, it added.



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