An organized violent government attack on protesting students in Tehran’s Sharif University Sunday has heightened tensions in Iran that can lead to more unrest.
After the fog of battle cleared Monday morning, the extent of what security forces planned and executed in Sharif University became clear. The emerging picture shows maneuvers and deception by security forces to corner the students and beat and arrest many.
The university’s Islamic Student Association Monday issued a call for a general, national student strike and early reports and images already show protests in many universities including in Esfahan, Mashhad, Sanandaj, Semnan and Kermanshah.
After more than two weeks of unrest, Iran’s hard-liners loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is often the target of derogatory slogans by protesters, are simply caught in a typical ‘no-win’ situation. The more they crack down, the more anger will grip young people who drive and lead the protests. And if they show little reaction, crowds will become more emboldened and perhaps march on government buildings.
Sharif University students had gathered Sunday morning inside the main gate chanting slogans when a group of pro-government Basij militants showed up and taunted them. Student slogans became more radical to the degree of profanities against Khamenei, who is the favorite target of protesters.
At this point students decided to relocate to another gate, because they knew that cameras were installed at the main gate which could be used to identify them. Once they reach the new location; they see that security forces were waiting for them right outside the campus in the surrounding streets. Security forces start firing shotgun pellets and paintball guns at the students and arrest and injure several.
At this point university officials shut the gates not to allow security forces inside the campus, which is prohibited by law. University officials and guards tell the students to exit the campus through a multi-story parking. Once student reach the first and second levels of the parking, they find themselves surrounded by plainclothes armed vigilantes, who start firing shotgun pellets and tear gas at the students. At that point students began running at all directions. The agents arrested around 30-40 students, whose fate remains unknown.
Student retreat inside the buildings with no way to leave the campus as hundreds of security forces had surrounded the university. These events took hours until finally at night the minister of higher education Mohammad Ali Zolfigol arrives to defuse the situation. He gets into an argument with security forces asking them to allow the students to leave the campus unharmed.
After that the minister meets with the students in an auditorium where he admonishes them and by some accounts insults a professor who was all along trying to defend the students. Finally, late at night students agree to leave the campus after promises of safe passage, but some reports say security forces make more arrests. In total, unconfirmed reports speak of 100 students having been detained and sent to an unknown location.
Iranian universities have been the bastion of opposition throughout Iran’s recent history, and many have been killed during protests by security forces. Once university students are galvanized it would be hard to subdue them and a new generation opposition activists will emerge.