Mass arrests inflame student anger as protests continue

Mass arrests of Iranian students and other protesters have failed to curb the anti-government uprising, now in its fourth week. Instead, the arrests have inflamed student anger, sparking large rallies on universities campuses even as protesters stayed away from streets at night.

Street protests in some places have become more sporadic as the authorities have imposed internet shutdowns to hamper communications between protesters and to prevent video footage being posted on social media.

Nonetheless, video footage continued to emerge of widespread daytime protests in universities and secondary schools, as students boycotted their classes and gathered on campuses on Tuesday and Wednesday to demand the release of university students detained in recent days in universities or at their homes.

Authorities arrested dozens of students and student activists protesting peacefully within their university campuses, believed to be a safe area as the law bans the armed forces from entering universities. Many students have been arrested outside the universities, including in their homes.

Iranian authorities have denounced the demonstrations as “riots” guided by foreign powers and have organised several counter-demonstrations in support of the state.

On Saturday 8 October, addressing students at the female-only Alzahra University in Tehran – an institution attended by the daughters of many regime officials and often seen as one of the least political – Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi warned universities of the dangers of “foreign influence”.

Raisi said: “They imagine they can achieve their evil goals in universities,” state TV reported him saying. “Unbeknown to them, our students and professors are alert and will not allow the enemy to realise their evil goals.”

Young women on the same campus chanted “get lost” and “death to the oppressor”, said the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights. Other Alzahra students were captured on video singing protest songs. Many women students protesting on campuses had removed their headscarves – an unusually defiant move.

On Thursday 6 October, the Center for Human Rights in Iran released the names of at least 116 university students arrested during the previous two weeks – almost 30 from the University of Tehran, and others from Allameh Tabataba’i University in Tehran, Islamic Azad University, Sharif University of Technology, Shahid Beheshti University and Kharazmi University, and others from universities in Tabriz, Mashhad, Kashan, Yazd, Shiraz and Kermanshah.

“The severity of the crackdown on Sharif University students on 2 October, and the high number of arrests, indicate the scope and intensity of those protests,” said the Center for Human Rights in Iran, pointing to protests in more than 100 universities in Iran in the past weeks.

Universities became the focal point of protests following the death on 16 September of Mahsa Amini after being arrested by the morality police for wearing her headscarf too ‘loosely’.

According to the People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran, also known as MEK (Mujahedin-e-Khalq), a radical opposition group, on 2 October, after a major siege at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology, many students were beaten, and others were violently arrested and taken to prison at undisclosed locations.

High number of arrests

With few names released officially, the exact number of arrests is still not known and the figures cited vary greatly.

MEK said there had been 20,000 arrests. HRANA news agency, affiliated with human rights groups in Iran, on Wednesday 12 October said there had been over 5,500 arrests, including 147 students. The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights said at least 1,200 have been arrested since the protests began.

Iran government figures as of 10 October also put the number of arrests at 1,200.

Around 400 were released on 4 October by Tehran’s Prosecutor General Ali Salehi, and others have been released after signing declarations that they would not participate in demonstrations again.

According to MEK, the regime has so far killed 400 civilians. Iran Human Rights said on Tuesday that at least 154 protesters, including nine children, have been killed by security forces. The official death toll stands at around 40.

Prominent artists, celebrities, journalists, civil society activists and others able to transmit information to the outside world are among those detained, rights organisations reported.

Student arrests spark campus rallies

The arrest of students sparked large rallies on universities campuses this week, demanding the release of fellow students. Students at Gilan University of Medical Sciences rallied while holding placards that read, “Release jailed students”, “Freedom is our right” and “Ambulances are for the sick” – a reference to the regime’s use of ambulances as a cover for security forces to apprehend and transfer protesters in secret.

A video shot at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad faculty of sciences on 10 October showed students shouting, “Evin has become a university”, a reference to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison where political prisoners are usually held.

Huge protest rallies were held at Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic) on 9 and 10 October despite pre-emptive statements from the university administration, and from officials of the University of Tehran and Shahid Beheshti University – on 8 October –announcing that almost all arrested students were being released.

The timing of the statements was seen as an attempt to cool the unrest on campuses, amid calls by a group of students and academics to hold class boycotts and protest on that day (8 October) similar to the class boycotts and strikes held on 2 October.

Hassan Ghodsypour, president of Amirkabir University of Technology, said the university’s management had started negotiations for the release of the arrested students from ‘day one’, so students were freed in several stages. Now in the last step, two students have been freed, he said, with no indication of the total number of students involved.

In remarks that were also carried by Iran’s official news agency IRNA, Ghodsypour pointed to the inappropriate behaviour of some students during recent gatherings and went on to say that issues can be resolved by the use of “rational dialogue and in a scientific atmosphere”. Ghodyspour condemned the presence of “unauthorised people” in academic centres, who try to disrupt order.

The public relations department of Shahid Beheshti University announced in a communiqué that all of the university’s students arrested in the past two weeks had been released from detention following efforts made by university officials.

The University of Tehran’s Deputy Head of Student Affairs Alireza Vajhi said that most of the university’s students had been released, as of 8 October, and added that with coordination between the institution and the authorities, there would no student in custody “within three days”.

However, the notices of releases were swiftly followed by Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister Sayyed Majid Mirahmadi warning on 9 October that those arrested in protests hereafter will not be released until their trial, adding that they would be given “severe sentences”.

As campus protests nonetheless continued, in another attempt to diffuse the situation, spokesman for the Iranian government Ali Bahadori Jahromi presented a more conciliatory tone during his weekly press conference on Tuesday 11 October, saying the Iranian government was in favour of “legal gatherings” and had plans to establish “free thinking centres” on university campuses to allow students and professors to have free discussions on various issues, seen by students as a bid to prevent them protesting on the streets.

Protests continue

Most of Tehran’s universities were on strike on 8 October in response to the call for a class boycott, with the semi-official ISNA (Iranian Students’ News Agency) reporting a heavy security presence in the capital this week, especially near universities as massive protests continued, notably at Amirkabir University this week, as well as Shiraz University.

Students at the art faculty at Tehran’s Islamic Azad University held a protest on Sunday 9 October with their hands died blood red.

Even IRNA confirmed protests were held this week in universities in Tehran and other cities, including Arak, Zanjan, Hamedan, Mashhad, Bushehr, Gilan, Kerman, although it has played down the protests in recent weeks.

Security forces amassed outside the University of Tabriz on 8 October in very large numbers, completely surrounding the university, as the university’s own security shut the university gates.

Student sources said Basij forces and other security forces had forced their way into the campus. Many students were beaten and arrests were made, with students saying around 300 were arrested.

Campus protests have continued at the University of Tabriz, demanding the release of those arrested.

In several cities of Iran, including Tabriz, Shiraz, Sanandaj and Ghaleh Hassan Khan, schoolgirls held a protest march in the alleys and streets around their schools after school hours and chanted the slogans of “woman, life, freedom” and “death to the dictator”.

All schools and universities in the Kurdistan province, where the 22-year-old Amini was from, were shut down on Sunday after several cities in the province saw major protests. According to several agency reports, security forces fired on protesters in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj on Sunday night, killing several – although reliable figures are not available.

Other badly affected areas include Zahedan in the south-eastern Sistan and Baluchestan province, where dozens had been shot and killed by security forces, including school children between the ages of 12 and 16.

School officials told parents not to let their children organise resistance inside schools or after school, warning of their children’s “potential arrest” if they participated in the uprising.