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Iran dissidents pay a high price

As two Iranians are hanged for taking part in protests, dissidents stuck in the country ponder their own fate.

Iranian opposition supporters beat police forces during clashes in central Tehran, Dec. 27, 2009. (Reuters)

Iran hanged two opposition protesters on Thursday and sentenced nine more to death for taking part in widespread rallies against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following last June's presidential election.

It is a stark reminder to members of the Iranian political opposition and social activists — for whom exile is not an option due to financial or other constraints — of the risks of voicing dissent in the Islamic Republic.

While the executions prove the extreme measures the state is willing to take to suppress the opposition movement, many of those accused of dissident behavior have experienced  retribution by other means. Factory workers, school teachers and university professors have been fired from their jobs as a direct result of expressing dissenting opinions.

Such dismissals are said to have begun in June, when the streets of Tehran and other major cities were filled with protesters claiming that the presidential election was fraudulent. In a speech just before the reopening of universities last August, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called university professors “key elements in creating a velvet revolution in the country” and asked that all universities be "purified" of those who contributed to unrest.

According to sources inside the country, this was reason enough for a wave of forced retirements and firings by universities. Law, social and political studies were the departments first targeted, but it later crept into other fields such as economics.

This past week, 12 professors from Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabi University were asked not to return to their jobs. In the same week Saba Vasefi, a professor from Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University was fired along with three others for activities in support of women’s rights.

Another University of Tehran professor was asked to leave his job because he “was seen attending the funeral of late Ayatollah Montazeri last month," reported. Montazeri was a senior cleric considered the opposition movement’s spiritual leader.

A community of sorts has formed of those laid-off and virtually unemployable but without the means to leave the country. They face an uncertain future.

Amir Razaghi is one such dissident. A former employee of Ministry of Health, he is a member of the political reform party Freedom Movement of Iran. It was founded in 1961 by a group of politicians and religious figures and continued its operation after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In 2000, the Iranian government arrested many of its members. After the June election, its leader, Ebrahim Yazdi, was taken to Evin prison where he remains, one of the country's oldest prisoners in one of its most notorious jails.

In a phone interview, Razaghi said that he had worked for the Ministry of Health for 12 years as a senior expert in public health. He joined the movement early in his career and stayed politically active while he worked. Last summer he received a letter from the “herasat” or the ministry’s security, asking him to stop his political activities.