Members of the Basij, Iran’s volunteer paramilitary force, have stormed the University of Tehran and attacked a student rally.
Chanting “God is Great,” the group entered the university compound on May 14. A video (in Persian) showing the force, which is part of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been shared extensively on social media.
The students rallied to protest against actions taken by the university’s Security Department — which oversees moral conduct as well as providing “protection” to the university — to deal with individuals who were “improperly” dressed. The Basijis and agents in plainclothes attacked the students, forcing the rally to come to a close.
“The Basijis entered the university from outside,” a student who was at the rally told IranWire. “They came with the express intention of beating the students.”
“For a few days now we have been constantly receiving warnings about our dress style and hijab,” the student continued. “They have added women to the [team of] security guards — their only duty seems to be warning people about hijab. They threaten students that they will be sent to the Disciplinary Committee if they fail to observe the hijab rules.
Over the last few days independent student bodies have gone on to social media to urge students to join the rally. On Tuesday, chanting “voluntary hijab is our unalienable right," the students started their protest rally in the central compound of the university [Persian video].
“By launching a project called ‘Chastity and Hijab’ they wanted to do to students at the university what the Morality Patrol does to people in the streets,” said one female student I spoke to. “Since the beginning of Ramadan [May 6], their warnings and their behavior have been very harsh and violent. In the last few days chador-clad women around campus have warned me to pull my scarf forward. One of them who had warned me twice told me that if I continued to look like this she would stop warning me and would send me to the Disciplinary Committee right away. But now Mr. Sarsangi denies this.”
Denials and Excuses
The student is referring to Majid Sarsangi, Tehran University’s Cultural Deputy. In an interview with Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), he said: “The rumors that the Morality Police have gone to Tehran University and [are] warning students is a joke and untrue. Such a thing has not happened” [Persian link]. However, he added that every year, to mark the occasion of the Islamic holy lunar calendar month of Ramadan — when Muslims are required to fast from dawn to dusk — it is vital that people respect the sanctity of the month by observing the approved dress code and by refraining from eating in public. To enforce this, university guards patrol the compound to warn individuals deemed to be violating this respect.
Sarsangi conceded that in recent days the warnings have been harsh and it was for this reason that students staged a protest rally. But, he said, “I declare clearly if any student has been summoned by the Disciplinary Committee they must let us know. In fact, no student has been summoned by the Disciplinary Committee for bad hijab or for breaking fast.” He said guards had simply issued warnings.
Following clashes with the Basijis and the plainclothesmen in the compound, the students then gathered in the amphitheater of the College of Fine Arts to speak with university officials about what had happened. But, said one student, even in the amphitheater “the plainclothesmen attacked the students and prevented them from reading their statement.” The student continued: “They occupied the stage and the students started chanting ‘Come down Basiji!’ The interesting thing is that the head of security and Dr. Sarsangi were in the hall as well but could not stop those people who had come to the university to beat the students.”
Several videos of the clash inside the amphitheater (Persian video) were also posted on social media. When the Basijis prevented the students from reading out their statement, the students started singing “My Old Classmate,” a popular song against tyranny and injustice from the 1979 revolution. In the end, the students were able to successfully deliver parts of the statement.
Violating the Dignity of Tehran University
“In recent days Tehran University students witnessed the deployment of female guards alongside the university’s guards to interfere in how students dress,” said the statement. “This unpleasant event — making it difficult for women to enter the university because of the way they were dressed and threatening them with summons from the Disciplinary Committee — is very unfortunate.” The statement also addressed Sarsangi directly, telling him that this treatment of students and forcing them to change how they dress is contrary to the dignity of the university and its students, even if it is “in the guise of Students’ Professional Ethics Statutes.”
The plan to prepare and enforce a “Students’ Professional Ethics Statutes” was first reported by Majid Sarsangi. “We believe that all subjects and issues in the university must be placed in the framework of professional ethics,” he said when announcing the plan. “These statutes include issues such as the Islamic lifestyle, the behavior of the academics and students, dress codes and other questions.”
In their statement, the students also targeted their protests at this statutes book. “Forcing a specific kind of dress on students is a blatant violation of students’ privacy and their human rights,” it said.
But, according to one of the protesting students we spoke to, the actions taken by the university security guards with regard to the wearing of hijab was not the only reason for the May 14 rally. Students also chanted slogans against gender discrimination and for the release Marzieh Amiri, a journalist with the newspaper Shargh who was arrested on May 1, International Workers’ Day.
“This rally called for freedom of dress, an end to gender discrimination and the release of those who were arrested on May Day,” the protesting student told IranWire. “We, the students, wanted to make it clear that we, ourselves, want these freedoms and that we were not following people like Masih Alinejad who are active against compulsory hijab outside Iran. We have nothing to do with her ‘White Wednesdays’ and her campaigns. We had slogans on our placards to make this clear.”
Another student who participated in the rally believes that recent actions by the university’s security guards started when a group of Hezbollahi students, employees and professors wrote a letter to the president of Tehran University and the Supreme Leader’s representative at the university. The letter, which has been published on social networks, criticizes female students for removing hijab, smoking cigarettes and lying on the grass lawns of the university. Male students were criticized for wearing “unconventional” clothing. The letter from the Hezbollah activists warned that if no action was taken to correct the situation, they “would have no choice but to pursue the matter with higher authorities.”
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Iran’s Discriminatory Laws against Women: The Early Days, December 6, 2018
Guards Arrest “Revolution Woman” Maryam Shariatmadari, April 27, 2018
The Regime’s Tactics Against Iran’s “Revolution Women”, February 2018
People Want the Choice on Hijab — But the Regime Won't Listen, February, 2018
The Man Who Joined Revolution Women, February, 2018
More Women Protest by Removing their Hijabs, January, 2018
The Woman Who Stood Up Against Forced Hijab, January, 2018