A protest by students at Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran

Security Forces In Iranian Universities Physically Threaten Students

Thursday, 07/13/2023

Security forces in Iran have unleashed a fresh wave of crackdowns at universities employing both verbal and physical assault to suppress the student movement.

Iran International’s interviews with around 15 students showed an increase in harassment at public and private universities in various cities, raising concerns about the safety of students and freedom of expression within educational institutions in Iran.

The student movement played a significant role in the formation and continuation of last year's popular protests, sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini in hijab police custody.

With the September anniversary of the protests looming, students and student activists are concerned about a surge in violence from security forces to suppress any fresh protests in the universities before they gain momentum.

“Security personnel patrol the campus on motorcycles, and their warnings regarding hijab are highly insulting, using very offensive language,” a student from Beheshti University in Tehran told Iran International.

A screen grab from a video showing a student being beaten by a security personnel at Tehran’s Allameh Tabataba'i University

Iranian students have increasingly chosen not to wear the compulsory hijab, viewing it as a symbol of a patriarchal society that contradicts their pursuit of gender equality. Their refusal to comply with the government-imposed dress code also serves as a demonstration of their discontent with the prevailing Islamic state, and its policies. 

On June 15, several students at Tehran’s College of Arts protesting stricter hijab rules were seriously injured by the head of campus security. Similar assaults have occurred in other instances.

While there is no precise statistic available on the number of students suspended or banned from universities for not wearing the compulsory hijab, students said dozens have been denied the opportunity to pursue their education due to this reason. 

A student from Al-Zahra University mentioned on Twitter that security guards at the university contact the fathers of female students and by making baseless accusations, put pressure on both the students and their families.

“My family reluctantly agreed for me to come to Tehran. The security office [of the university] cancelled my accommodation due to the hijab issue last month,” said a student in Tehran.

Several students of Al-Zahra university without mandatory hijab in the capital Tehran

“The behavior of the security personnel was so annoying and ugly that I prefer not to talk about it. I practically have nowhere to stay, and it is not possible for me to afford rent and expenses for food in Tehran. I am forced to drop out and return to my hometown,” she said.

Students said activities of the Hijab and Dress Code Committee that oversees student compliance have expanded during the exam period in early summer. Security personnel were present in the exam halls and issued warnings to students. If they refused to comply, they were subsequently banned from entering the university without any prior notice.

University officials and teachers have tried to intervene and allow banned students to enter the university for exams, students said, but security forces have not allowed it.

The recent surge in suppression following last year's uprising signifies a systematic endeavor by the government, which perceives filing cases and expelling students from universities as the sole means of addressing the situation.

Student protesters outside Allameh Tabataba'i University in Tehran

Student protests also existed during the monarchy in 1960s and 70’s but for political reasons, not hijab, and many were punished, including arrests, but systematic or random violence on campuses did not exist. There were no vigilante or plainclothes agents to harass the students. Police showed up and used force to disperse campus protests.

At least a thousand protesting students have been suspended or academically banned from various universities in Iran since last September.

A student activist said university security, along with security forces, are attempting to suppress the spirit of freedom and student life after the Women, Life, Freedom uprising. 

“Their assumption was that by mass arrest and suspension, they could break the spirit of the movement,” a student said, “but they fail to realize that 'the university is a smoldering fire beneath the ashes.”

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