January 26, 2023

Suffocation, the General Climate of Universities in Iran

Student Day, Allameh Tabatabaei University

The killing, on September 16, 2022, of Zhina (Mahsa) Amini, a twenty-two-year-old Kurdish woman, by the Iranian morality police, sparked the most tenacious, long-running, and widespread movement since the 1979 Revolution. It is united, geographically and across social divides, by the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom.” The incredibly courageous, indefatigable mobilization of protestors, day and night—for over 132 days, now (as of January 26, 2023)—has shaken the pillars of the Iranian regime.

Students, along with the people of the Kurdistan and Baluchistan regions of Iran, have been on the front line of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement. Since December, under the pressure of an incredibly violent government reaction, the movement has entered a new phase, producing new forms of resistance and struggle. Meanwhile, the forms of resistance that have already emerged, such as gathering publicly for the mourning ceremonies of those killed by the government, chanting at night, and refusing the mandatory hijab outdoors, still continue. According to the Human Rights Activists’ News Agency (HRANA), 519 protesters—including sixty-nine children—have been killed, 19,300 arrested, and thousands imprisoned. Many of those arrested face the death penalty. Four protestors have already been executed. The regime, whose Ministry of Justice is notorious for its corruption, has staged mass trials which, in a very short period and in formal violation of Iranian constitutional law, have taken forced confessions as grounds for a death sentence.

Girls Hall of Residence, University of Gillan

The international press has presented the movement’s recent phase as its waning and suppression. But many predict that this forceful crackdown will be unsustainable. The people of Iran, who already have paid so dearly at the hands of this regime, are at this moment experiencing and recognizing their own power, emboldened by a sense of historical agency and awareness. Many would say that as long as there are women in this country, and as long as there are students, the movement will persist.

University campuses across the country have proven to be one of the strongest forces maintaining the momentum of this revolutionary moment. The following statement, written by a group of student activists in Tehran—who cannot safely share their individual stories with media either inside or outside of Iran—depicts the current situation on these campuses.

—Aras Amiri


After the murder of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, universities have played a prominent and leading role in the people’s uprising. Students have boycotted classes, staged sit-down strikes, and gathered to protest, doing whatever is in their power to show their opposition to the system, to yell out loud that their voices can no longer be suppressed. Despite the many cases of armed forces illegally entering universities to attack students, despite the arrests on campus, or at students’ homes, despite the rubber bullets and tear gas—students have resisted. In response to this politically engaged generation of students, universities have hired new security staff from security agencies, and doubled their surveillance. They have begun identifying students, and either handing them over to security agencies, or filing cases against them in the Disciplinary Council. Then came the changes in the bylaw of the Disciplinary Council, which abolished the presumption of innocence. The system can now consider students guilty from the outset and easily take away their right to education. Universities have also started mass-suspending students, taking away their access to all university facilities. Students have already made statements objecting to the new bylaw. They were given a single response: the spokesperson of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology called their protests a case of anarchy. He declared that, in light of recent disruptive activities, universities need new tools, and that the new bylaw and other recent changes are these tools.

The result of these changes is the absolute suffocation of university students. 696 university students have been arrested so far, and a great number of them face prison sentences as well as absurd additional punishments, like being forced to write essays on patriotism and on damaging public opinion. Professors who stood by their students are not forgotten either. They have been suspended, and their salaries cut. The system has set out to harm.

Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Tehran

The students resisted. But there’s only so much they can do in this suffocatingly restrictive situation. They cannot even go to their faculties with peace of mind. Their identity is checked and checked again. The security staff show no restraint. They insult and harass students, specifically the ones who refuse to wear the mandatory hijab. (Most of these cases are handed to the Disciplinary Council and students face suspension of up to four semesters.) And in the case of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures of University of Tehran, we see many cases of sexual harassment as well. Any gathering with a few too many people is closely watched by security staff and students are constantly urged to disperse. Security staff ransack memorials, as we saw at the University of Tehran on January 8. Armed forces march outside the doors of universities whenever the authorities feel that something is going to happen. Hand-in-hand with university staff, soldiers and police attack, arrest, and threaten students—Amirkabir University and Beheshti University are the most recent cases.

But the students persist. They gather and protest whenever possible. They come together and sing the songs of the revolution. They hold memorials, secretly distribute flyers, and write on the walls. They write of executions, of their imprisoned friends. They protest in dorms and use any available platform to show that they will not stand quietly and watch.

—A group of student activists in Tehran

Middle East, Protests & Demonstrations

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