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Crackdown on University Students for Supporting Striking Workers

December 10, 2018
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read
“Mr. Rouhani…waiting for you to…fulfil your promises.”
“Mr. Rouhani…waiting for you to…fulfil your promises.”
Ruhollah Mardani, a student at Tehran University, has started his third hunger strike after 11 months in prison
Ruhollah Mardani, a student at Tehran University, has started his third hunger strike after 11 months in prison

Students at Allameh Tabataba'i University showed solidarity with striking workers on Sunday, December 9, insisting they could not stay silent in the face of ongoing injustice. 

“If we stay silent in the face of what is happening to Haft-Tappeh workers, then we do not deserve to be students,” one of them told IranWire. For more than a month, workers of the Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-Industry Company in Khuzestan have been protesting over their unpaid wages and their uncertain employment prospects. "We are children of workers and we will stand with you!” read one of the placards the students held.  

Allameh Tabataba'i University is Iran’s largest public university for humanities and social sciences. In addition to showing their support for workers, students voiced other grievances — showing their anger over gender discrimination and the monetization of education as well. But the dominant theme at the protest was the plight of the workers. “Many students have received long prison sentences. A security crackdown in universities and the interrogations of students have strangled the student movement,” the student told IranWire.“But along with all these demands we must defend the rights of the workers and teachers as well. The regime wants students who don’t care, students who don’t care about protests by the teachers and the workers. But we want to say that we do care.”

On Saturday, December 8, 500 student activists wrote to President Rouhani, urging him to heed the constitution. “We voted to have an attorney not a judge!,” the letter said. “But what can we do now that the attorney and the judge have colluded to oppress and suppress legitimate protests? Crackdown  on students, crackdown on workers, crackdown on teachers, crackdown on truck drivers, crackdown on women, crackdown on environmental activists, and so on.”

“The security crackdown is not limited to universities — the whole society is suffering from it,” one of the students who signed the letter told IranWire. “If the worker talks, he is thrown into jail. If the students protest they are sentenced to prison. In this letter we wanted to warn of the consequences of suppressing civic protests.”

“This refusal to answer social demands will have no other consequence except violence and the ruination of civil society,” the students’ letter continued.

Students addressed their letter to Rouhani just two days after the president publicly stated that Iran is home to a free and open university environment. “When it comes to critical speech, our universities are the freest and it is easy for students to express their views,” he told a group of students from the city of Semnan.


Deplorable Competition and Collusion

“Today your police, your Intelligence Ministry and your Interior Ministry are in a deplorable competition with parallel security organizations and have colluded to close our mouths and suffocate us, but you only continue to deny it,” the students — who all signed their names on the letter — told Rouhani.

One student activist told IranWire that the students who participated in recent protests are aware that they could be summoned by the university’s Security Department and could be suspended or expelled. “We have rallied with the full knowledge of this,” the activist said. “We wrote our names on the letter knowing full well that we might be summoned. The workers also know that they could get arrested, but they cannot forgo their rights.”

IranWire talked to Ali, an aerospace engineering student at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University of Technology. On Tuesday, December 4 students staged a demonstration at the university and chanted in support of workers’ demands. The protest ended in violence when vigilantes from the Basij, the paramilitary wing of the Revolutionary Guards, attacked them. “We were chanting in support of the workers, saying ‘Free the imprisoned workers!’” Ali said. “Suddenly the Basiji students came, surrounded us and started chanting against us. Then they started videotaping us. This led to clashes between the students and the Basijis.” According to Ali, university students have been left with no doubt that the Basiji students are working hand in hand with the security departments of the universities, the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit.

In early December, students from Allameh Tabataba'i University’s School of Social Sciences staged a demonstration against the presence of Intelligence Ministry agents at the university, and against their cooperation with the university’s Security Department. According to one student, on Monday December 3, a students’ union activist was told to go the office of the head of the Security Department at 3pm. “When he did,” he said,” he was confronted by an agent of the Intelligence Ministry who served him with a warrant.” The student pointed out that this happened a few days before December 7, Student Day in Iran, and said he believed it was designed to intimidate students so that they would not hold rallies on that day.

Intimidating Students’ Families

A day before the students wrote to President Rouhani, the Iranian Students’ Union issued a statement reporting that security actions against students had intensified. “The constant presence of unknown plainclothesmen at university campuses, trumped up security and disciplinary charges against the students, expulsion of students from dormitories and the intimidation of the families of students, especially those of female students, has increased sharply.”

Following nationwide protests in late 2017 and early 2018, many students were arrested and sentenced to prison. At the time of the protests, the Iranian Students’ Union issued a statement that said: “Many efforts were made to make it difficult for the union to be active. The arrest of more than 300 students, prison sentences totaling more than 100 years, punishment by flogging and banning the students from traveling abroad are just [a few] examples of violence used against students.”

The statement demanded that all sentences against students be rescinded. “They have promised repeatedly that they would release the students but some of them are still in prison, like Ruhollah Mardani who went on hunger strike on December 7,” a Students’ Union activist told IranWire. According to Students’ Union statement, Mardani, a Master’s Degree student at Tehran University’s School of Literature, has been in prison for about 11 months, after being jailed during the nationwide protests. “He had been on hunger strike twice,” the statement read. “He broke his hunger strike after he was promised release on bail but they did not fulfill their promises.” On December 7, Students’ Day, Mardani began another hunger strike, his third since he has been in prison.


Related Coverage:

Sugar Refinery Workers Face New Round of Harassment, December 5, 2018

Pro-Labor Student Protest Ends in Violence, December 4, 2018

Arrest and Torture of Protesting Workers, November 29, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Haft-Tappeh Sugar Factory, November 22, 2018

Wave of Arrests after Teachers’ Strike, November 19, 2018

Iranian Teachers on Nationwide Strike, October 15, 2018

Hundreds Arrested in Iran as Protests Continue, January 2, 2018

Eyewitness Reports of Protests at Tehran University, December 31, 2017



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