Student Day in Iran: The Uprising Carries On Despite Threats
This year, “Student Day” in Iran takes place after months long protests following the government murder of Zhina Mahsa Amini and the rise of the “woman, life, freedom” movement.
A driving force in the uprising, students across the country continue to be a primary target in the government’s efforts to quell the protests.
While exact numbers are difficult to verify, several sources including Center for Iran Human Rights and Iran based grassroots organisation Human Rights Activists News (HRNA) claim that around 600 students have been arbitrarily detained in the last three months of protest. Considering the estimated number of total arrests since September 16, actual numbers are expected to be much higher.
One of these arrested students is 21 year old Azin Saeedi Nasab, an environmental studies student at the University Tehran. Azin was arrested by security forces on September 22nd for peacefully protesting. After her arrest, Azin was denied access to a lawyer, family visits or phone calls. She was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for “Assembling and colluding to act against national security.” This is the reality of many detained students like Azin.
Students who are not detained are threatened and in many observed cases, prohibited from continuing their studies if caught participating in the demonstrations.
In addition to stationing security guards and Basiji forces to monitor students, disciplinary committees and codes have been established on several campuses to legalize these methods of suppression.
Despite the intensification of the crackdown on students, student protests continue to take place in harmony with the protests flaring up throughout the country.
Student Day Culminates 3-Day Strike
Student Day has been celebrated for over 7 decades in Iran, marking December 7th a day of collective action towards democracy and progress. This year, it became the culmination of the three-day general strike and a lucid manifestation of the demands of the students.
Protests and demonstrations were held on campuses across the country in commemoration of those killed in the current movement. Students decorated the walls of their schools in blood red paint reading the same slogans they shouted together as a unified voice for freedom. “”The student is awake and sick of tyranny!”
In efforts to normalise Student Day, the Islamic Republic president Ebrahim Raisi visited the University of Tehran to deliver a speech — one to a room of handpicked students with pre-approved or dictated questions to shift the accountability of the protest to “the enemy’s conspiracies.”
Alireza Zakani, the current mayor of Tehran, who attended Sharif University yesterday, delivered a similar speech at Shahid Beheshti University. The audience was once again filled with whistling and clapping supporters, but this time, a number of protesting students were able to attend. While Zakani routinely referred to Israel as the enemy, one student shouted, “You are the enemy!” Protesting students and their questions were met with great hostility from Zakani.
In the past week leading up to Student Day, several government officials have made visits to universities across the country. Like the visits of Raisi and Zakani, protesting students were barred from attending as to help the government dodge questions related to the protests. Some students, however, were successful in sneaking into these meetings, in which they challenged the officials to speak up about the reality of the situation in Iran. Despite these efforts by tireless students, no transparent answers were provided.
In honour of Student Day, students from a number of universities wrote the following statement:
“We students are not apart from the revolution for the right to human life, for prosperity and happiness for all, for the unconditional freedom of expression, for the destruction of gender apartheid and for the complete elimination of discrimination and inequalities at all levels. We have stood and continue to stand in the trenches, in full support of the great people’s revolution against the Islamic Republic, from the very beginning until today, strong and connected with other revolutionaries across the country.”
So far, at least 458 people, 63 children, and 29 women have been killed in the protests following the death of Zhina Mahsa Amini, says Oslo based human rights organization Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO). The government’s pressures on families and relatives of victims to remain silent, the lack of and access to official records and freedom of press in Iran pose challenges to the confirmation of actual numbers.