Student Activists Educate Iran’s President About Political Repression at University Campuses
Four months after 19 university students in Iran were issued harsh prison sentences for attending protests, the country’s president declared that Iran’s “universities are the freest in the world.”
“I don’t think there’s another country where students can express their opinions and criticisms so freely,” President Hassan Rouhani boasted in the city of Semnan on December 5, 2018, during a speech marking Iran’s Student Day, which was on December 7.
The day before at a student gathering in Semnan, Rouhani said, “criticism of the government is the right of every student.”
His statements rang hollow as only a year earlier, more than 150 students were arrested on Student Day for protesting against state and university policies. The country’s judiciary has meanwhile continued to sentence students to prison for attending protests.
In July 2018, more than 60 student organizations from universities across Iran had sharply criticized President Rouhani for the crackdown on students led by his Intelligence Ministry.
This time, several Iranian university students responded to Rouhani’s false claims via social media.
“You Really Messed Up, Rouhani”
“Mr. Rouhani, I wanted to let you know that at the University of Medical Sciences in Kerman, which is one of the ‘freest’ universities in the world, only the Basiji students are allowed to celebrate Student Day, even though you had said that all students could also do so,” tweeted student activist Mohammad Ali Kamfirouzi on December 6.
The Basij is an all-volunteer paramilitary force that functions as an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Arash Mohammadnia, a former student activist, posted a video of students at Noshirvani University in the city of Babol singing a patriotic song, adding, “Students … showed that the university is alive and they won’t surrender to indignity.”
Student activist Fereshteh Tousi tweeted a photo of the students demonstrating in Babol with a quote from a statement they had issued: “The path to liberation is through discarding fear, and reliance on the people and democratic movements.”
Formerly imprisoned student activist Bahareh Hedayat commented “… Slogans on Student Day continue to proclaim that the universities are alive but in fact they are wrapped in darkness and stained with blood… You really messed up, Rouhani.”
Mahdieh Golru, another previously imprisoned student activist, reacted, “Student Day is not for those who are seeking an education. It’s a day for student activists, for those who believe that the university is a stage for the struggle against tyranny and dictatorship, for those who are striving for a better world…”
“December 7 is a day for student activists who seek more than an education by defending social and political causes,” tweeted formerly imprisoned student activist Majid Tavakoli.
Iran’s Student Day marks the anniversary of the death of three students who were killed by soldiers at the University of Tehran on December 7, 1952.
The students were shot while protesting the British and US-backed coup against Iran’s popularly elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh the year before.
Since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, especially after a bloody revolt in Tehran University dormitories in 1998, student activists have been denied higher education and persecuted through various methods.
Students accused of engaging in political activities receive a star on their application, which blocks them from enrolling in Iranian universities.
One of Iran’s biggest crackdowns on students took place in December 2017/January 2018 as dozens of students were arrested for their peaceful protests against state policies, prompting 40 Members of Parliament to urge President Rouhani to seek their freedom.