Students call for boycotts, strikes amid ongoing protests

At least a dozen colleges and universities have responded to calls for boycotts of online classes and for sit-ins as protests sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini continued in almost all provinces in Iran in the past week.

Amini died on 16 September after she was arrested by Iranian ‘morality police’ for wearing the hijab ‘incorrectly’. As part of widespread protest action, women have cut off their hair, removed their hijabs and thrown them onto bonfires in the streets.

Classes have been shifted online at universities in Tehran and elsewhere.

On 26 September the Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Cultural Associations called on teachers and students to go on strike over the suppression by authorities of mainly young protesters.

A statement from the Paris-based secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) on Tuesday 27 September put the number of those arrested at over 12,000 in the first 11 days of the protests, with deaths exceeding 240.

However, Norway-based Iran Human Rights put the death toll at 76 in the first 11 days, while the official figure in Iran’s state media is 41 deaths in that period, including security personnel.

Iran’s official media said that at least 1,200 people had been arrested in the past two weeks and some women students have been released after signing declarations they would not violate the dress code or participate in protest action.

Student statements

Students at several universities released statements this week calling for strike action and the boycotting of online classes. Some have called for the release of all student activists and a return to in-person classes. They have also urged professors to join the strike.

Student statements from various other universities announcing class boycotts referred to the “besieging of the universities” in Tehran and intimidation of students, without providing details.

The Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic) statement alluded to “illegal and unwarranted entry into university dormitories” and arrests of some students “without charge or court order”.

The statement said tear gas had been released in the dormitory area, and students threatened with tasers. According to the statement, some students had been injured “in the eye and eye area” by rubber bullets, while others had been beaten outside dormitories and on their way to the university. These incidents have so far not been independently verified.

Social media reports said that students at the University of Tehran, Al-Zahra University – a women’s university in Tehran – and Sharif University of Technology, a leading technology university in the capital, were the first to boycott all lessons, whether held online or face to face.

They were followed by Allameh Tabtaba’i University, Kharazmi University, Babol Noshirvani University of Technology in the north of Iran, and Amirkabir University of Technology, in what is seen as a ratcheting up of resistance on campuses.

Listing other striking higher education institutions, NCRI’s secretariat named the universities of Yazd, Guilan, Qazvin, Semnan, Tarbiat Modares, Art Isfahan, Khajeh Nasir, Hamadan’s Buali Sina, Science and Welfare Sciences, Science and Culture, Medical Sciences in Tabriz, research sciences in Tehran, Isfahan University of Technology, Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, Mohaghegh Ardabili University, Najafabad Azad University and Shandiz University of Mashhad.

Other participants in the strike, according to separate sources, include students at the Persian Gulf University in Bushehr, Shandiz in Mashhad, Tehran Azad University, the Pars University of Art and Architecture in Tehran, the Najafabad branch of the Islamic Azad University, and Azerbaijan Shahid Madani University in East Azerbaijan province. Students at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran also staged renewed protests this week.

Isfahan University of Technology staged a sit-in on campus on 26 September chanting the slogan widely adopted by protesters: “Woman, life, freedom.”

Professors join protests

While student activists at the University of Tehran reported that professors had joined their strike, several professors at the prestigious Sharif University of Technology also went on strike on 26 September, demanding the release of all detained students.

“I will not hold any classes before detained students of Sharif University are freed to the last person,” Dr Ali Sharifi Zarchi, a professor of bioinformatics and artificial intelligence, tweeted on Monday.

In a show of support for striking students, other professors at Sharif University also said they would not hold classes.

Nasrollah Hekmat, a prominent professor of philosophy at Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, joined the strike, saying in a letter to student groups dated 26 September: “I will not attend any class while you are not at the university.”

Lili Galedaran, a member of the drama faculty at Shiraz University of Arts, resigned from her post at the university in protest after teaching at the university for eight years. She said she had received death threats in the past and threats to her family.

“I have been interrogated many times because of what I said, wrote, thought,” she said in her resignation letter, saying these interrogations were carried out by intelligence departments of Shiraz and Tehran. “But I continued to teach because of the love of my students. But today I am resigning from my job because of the love I have for them.”

Students and professors at Razi University, Kermanshah, issued a joint statement saying they would join the strike in protest against the “mass arrest of students and the shooting of protesting people in the street”.

‘Flimsy excuses’ to shift classes online

Anger is also evident over the shift to online classes. In a statement this week, students at Shahid Beheshti University accused the authorities of using “flimsy excuses” to move classes online in the first week of the academic year, which started on 23 September.

With the Iranian authorities sporadically shutting down the internet or severely limiting internet speeds in an effort to curtail the protests, many students say online classes are barely an option.

In separate statements, students of Kharazmi University and Amirkabir University of Technology said the move to online classes was “an insult”.

Internet access in Sanandaj and Saqqez, two cities in Iranian Kurdistan, Mahsa Amini’s home province in which the protests first began, was disrupted for at least two days this week and disruptions are also being experienced in other major Iranian cities.

Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Issa Zarepour, on 23 September denied interruptions to the internet, Tasnim News Agency reported.

Shahid Beheshti University claimed official holidays and “travel difficulties” as the reason for moving classes online. In cities such as Shiraz and Qazvin, and in Alborz province, authorities said campuses would remain closed “due to air pollution”.

On 25 September, in order to prevent demonstrations in Karaj on the outskirts of Tehran, the authorities also cut off electricity in many areas of the city, NCRI reported. This did not prevent the protests from continuing, it said.