Violation of campuses: Rights group calls for global action

Amid signals that factions within the Iranian government are pushing for conditional negotiations, a human rights group this week called on universities worldwide to condemn the “outrageous violation” of university campuses by state-sanctioned security forces.

The call comes as trust in the government on the part of students continues to deteriorate, exacerbated by the frequent encroachment of armed plainclothes security forces on Iranian campuses, including dormitories – with the aim of suppressing and arresting students – in violation of a 2000 law.

“There is ample evidence showing that in addition to the police special forces, plainclothes forces, some of whom were also armed and posing as student Basij [one of the five forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] members, attacked students and kidnapped a number of them from their dormitories,” Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO), an organisation based in Norway, said in a statement released on 30 October.

“Iran Human Rights strongly condemns the encroachment of university campuses by armed plainclothes forces and the violent crackdown on peaceful student protests,” the statement said.

IHRNGO Director and University of Oslo Professor Mahmood Reza Amiry-Moghaddam said: “We ask universities and academic institutions around the world to support student demands and condemn the outrageous violation of university campuses by Islamic Republic forces.”

“Considering the Islamic Republic’s long history of suppressing and killing students, Iran Human Rights expresses serious concern about the fate of the detained students and demands their immediate release and recognition of their demands and right to protest,” Amiry-Moghaddam added.

Thousands of people have been arrested nationwide in a crackdown on the ongoing protests, rights activists say, while Iran’s judiciary has said 1,000 people have already been charged in connection with what it describes as “riots” after a call this month by judiciary chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei to fast-track cases and hand out harsh sentences.

Universities under attack

Following the 1999 student uprising, a law passed in August 2000 prohibited the entry of armed forces into educational institutions. Since then, the main tactic of security forces has been to surround campuses and besiege students, arresting them once they leave the premises. Now, several documented cases show them entering universities with impunity.

“Universities should be protected and be a safe space for students,” tweeted Azar Mansouri, a women’s rights activist and head of the pro-reform Union of Islamic Iran People Party.

On 30 October, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami told protesters it was to be their last day of taking to the streets, a warning that security forces could intensify their crackdown.

But students say many of them were simply protesting peacefully on campus during demonstrations at dozens of universities this week.

According to reports gathered by IHRNGO and other sources, student dormitories in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan province, and Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province, were attacked in the middle of the night on 28 October and again on the morning of 29 October, with students assaulted and shot at. Many students, who were resting at the time, were injured. Tear gas was also fired on university premises.

At some universities, university officials have tried to stop security forces entering the campus. “But they don’t have the power [to stop them] because the authorities don’t care what the university management says,” Amiry-Moghaddam told University World News.

“In some places the university management collaborated with the authorities because they could lose their job if they don’t.”

“It is important to send the message to heads of universities and university management in Iran that they are also responsible for [protecting] the students, though the main responsibility is those who violate these rules,” Amiry-Moghaddam said.

Staff defending students

“Many university staff are on the students’ side. The universities also have security people and in some places their security tried to defend the students, even standing in front of students so that they [government security forces] would not hurt the students.

“It was very touching,” Amiry-Moghaddam said, referring to reports that agents of the intelligence department in Sanandaj attempted to arrest some female students from the Fereshtegan Dormitory on Sunday night, the day before a funeral was held in the city for Sarina Saedi, a 16-year-old girl killed in the crackdown.

However, university professors prevented the agents from executing the arrests.

Other female students have not been as lucky. On 28 October, Mahshid Moshashaii was arrested at a student dormitory in Kermanshah and taken to an unknown location.

Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the Iranian opposition group in exile, condemned the regime’s use of brute force against students and called on the international community to take meaningful action.

“The IRGC’s ruthless attack on universities, using pellet guns and live ammunition, while kidnapping students and particularly girls, shows the regime’s desperation in the face of Iran’s protests,” she said in a 30 October statement.

The NCRI women’s committee has been gathering evidence of abductions and assaults on women students in particular.

Continued protests

Eyewitness reports from Islamic Azad University, North Tehran Branch, indicated that students were teargassed and severely beaten with batons by Basij forces on Sunday, with reports of several students at the university being injured and dozens arrested.

On Saturday 29 October students at the University of Tehran’s College of Engineering were protesting peacefully on campus when student Basij forces violently attacked them, aided by plainclothes agents who were unlawfully stationed there since that morning.

Amiry-Moghaddam said Basij and plainclothes security forces “had illegally entered the campus. Security forces waiting outside were arresting and taking students away to an undisclosed location.”

People who gathered outside to help the students were also attacked by the special forces, according to eyewitness accounts. The remaining students were finally able to get out, but most were arrested upon exit, he said.

On Monday, at Islamic Azad University’s West Tehran Branch, a large number of students attended a protest rally chanting the slogan: “Tehran has become a detention centre, the university has been destroyed.”

Tensions were also high at the Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran, where security officers tried to spray water at students who were refusing to observe gender segregation rules. One photo shows a group of students preventing a security guard from hitting a female student.

“As the protests continue, the security forces become more desperate. We have seen shooting at children and just randomly on the street shooting around and it’s the same at universities. I don’t think that university management, per se, can do so much. But they should uphold the rights of the universities themselves and not collaborate with authorities when they are violating these rules,” Amiry-Moghaddam said.

Fundamental rights

“What we see is Iranian people and university students standing up for fundamental rights. And authorities don’t give them these rights but respond to them with extensive violence,” said Amiry-Moghaddam.

Amiry-Moghaddam said university leaders collaborate “because they are handpicked. They are not necessarily appointed based on their qualifications but based on their loyalty to the authorities.”

“[It is] the same with high schools. You have seen principals or headmasters who call the police and ask them to come, [but in] some places where they stand in front of the entrance and don’t let them come in.”

This week in Tehran, Sharif University of Technology, Alzahra University, Shahid Beheshti University, Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic), Kharazmi University, Allameh Tabataba’i University, Islamic Azad University Tehran North Branch and Islamic Azad University Tehran East Branch were the scene of anti-government protests, mostly calling for the release of detained students.

At Amirkabir University of Technology students held a sit-in on Tuesday 1 November in front of the university president’s office in protest against suspension orders issued by the university banning students from entering the university.

Also on Tuesday, Isfahan University of Technology students staged a sit-in in support of students suspended from their studies. At the University of Mazandaran, despite arrests and widespread summoning of students to disciplinary committees, students continued to rally in protest.

The day before, on Monday, at Azerbaijan Civil University students held a large gathering calling for the release of Armita Paver, a biology student arrested the same day by security officers in front of the university.

Pars University of Art and Architecture was surrounded by security forces on Sunday and the university’s security officials threatened the protesting students that they would open the gates of the university to allow them in.

Prospects for dialogue

After weeks of intense protests, some factions within the Iranian regime have been advocating a dialogue with students aimed at dampening the protests.

Some government officials have signalled that they are open to “reforms” as a result of the protests, provided protests are differentiated from “riots” and efforts to “overthrow the establishment”. Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has insisted that the political establishment has to be the platform of any reforms.

Articles have also been appearing in government-controlled media about how to start public discussion and listen to opponents.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi met with heads of the country’s universities on 30 October to ask them to initiate dialogue with their students, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported.

Raisi reportedly said sufficient processes and capacity existed within universities to maintain order and discipline. But, first and foremost, the way to strengthen order and restore calm would be by resolving the preoccupations of students and professors, albeit on the “condition” that there is an “appropriate understanding of issues”.

Rejection of dialogue

Earlier in October, attempts by government officials, including the Government Spokesperson Ali Bahadori Jahromi and Science Minister Mohammad Ali Zolfigol, to visit campuses to initiate dialogue were met with jeers and slogans from students. Students have said there can be no dialogue with authorities before arrested students are released.

Shouts of “Get lost murderer” greeted Bahadori Jahromi during his visits to two universities in Tehran and Qom on 24 and 25 October, with students calling his visit staged and his gesture of dialogue a failed manoeuvre that showed the regime’s “weakness” in the face of legitimate student demands.

According to student councils, security officials stationed at Tehran’s KN Toosi University of Technology and the University of Qom took preventive measures ahead of Bahdori Jahromi’s visits. They had tried to intimidate students and filled the conference room with regime supporters who entered the universities as ‘VIP guests’, according to student groups. However, students stormed the meeting place in both universities and chanted anti-regime slogans.

Najafgholi Habibi, the former chancellor of Allameh Tabataba’i University and a former member of parliament, said the main precondition for dialogue is immunity for individuals who take part in public discussions with regime hardliners and noted that the regime’s tolerance for different viewpoints had reduced in recent years.

But, in an interview with Iran’s ISNA news agency he said any dialogue would not be effective at this time and universities had abandoned the idea of dialogue as impractical under the current circumstances.

Habibi said that the regime should have thought about dialogue with the people when there was still hope of improving the situation. “Now we can only think of discussions when confrontation with the people comes to an end.”

Lack of trust

The government’s plan to launch ‘Dialogue Houses’ within the universities was “too late”, Habibi said, with some of the harshest slogans against the regime being uttered on university campuses.

Amiry-Moghaddam told University World News the authorities were not interested in dialogue, based on the experience of IHRNGO.

“Many of the people, civil activists, who have been arrested were not part of the protests. They were inside their homes and hadn’t been taking part. They took them into detention and solitary confinement to prevent them from talking.

“When it comes to students, many students are expelled from the university for expressing their views and at a time when there were no big protests.

“The students themselves don’t trust the authorities. As long as the students are inside the university, they are either just singing or chanting, they are not destroying anything. And then they are attacked. And so, they are not interested in any dialogue,” Amiry-Moghaddam said.

Amiry-Moghaddam said that contrary to the regime’s view, the protests are not about a “misunderstanding”.

He said Iranian people and university students are standing up for their fundamental rights and the authorities don’t give them those rights but respond with violence.

He said protester demands were about the “most private aspects of life, like what to wear, what to drink, how to eat”, referring to enforced segregation in university canteens.