Sunday, March 19, 2006

Step by Step Repression of Students

Shahram Rafizadeh, Rooz Online:
The new wave of attacks on Iran’s universities that began by the firing of lecturers, sentencing of student activists and the beating of students of Sharif University is now taking new growing. The hardline press is using recent university student events, such as the talks that Ali Afshari and Akbar Atri recently gave, to intensify official crackdown on student activists. READ MORE

In a coordinated move, the radical pro-government press which is also closely tied to intelligence circles in Iran is providing extensive coverage to recent violent incidents at Sharif University. For example in its Monday's issue, hardline and pro-government Jomhuri-e Eslami condemned the incidents and called them "immoral". The daily quoted the education minister that the two student leaders of Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (Office of Student Solidarity, which is the largest student organization in the country) who had recently traveled to the US, are responsible for the campus violence. At the same time, it calls on the religious forces that have been hurt by the incidents not to take the law into their own hands and allow government and security officials to take the necessary measures against them.

Another newspaper, ultra-radical Keyhan published a fabricated report on the issue and quoted an anonymous defector from the Islamic Association of Sharif University who had called the violence an organized and pre-planned event. In an interview with a senior official at the university's intelligence office, Keyhan reported that officials were prepared to strongly respond to other similar protests by students, adding that those who had been involved in the Sharif university incidents had been identified and would be dealt with in due time.

The hardline daily ignores the fact that during the Sharif university incident it was plain-clothes security agents who actually beat up students and even used tear gas against them. Soon after the incident, 11 Majlis (Iran parliament) MPs called for serious action against the students who had displayed disrespect to martyrs, meaning those who defend the cause of the regime.

University and student events during the last month alone are similar to those that have taken place during the last three decades and each of them has led to serious curtailment of student activism. For example just a month ago when students learned that a university professor had been fired, they staged rallies and sit in protesting the decision. In another incident, Alame Tabatabi university students staged a sit-in to protest the firing of Professor Dr Namakdoust. Then came news that Morteza Mardiha, another reformist professor had been relieved of his teaching position, prompting student protests. Mohammad Mohammadi Gorgani has also been recently called in by judiciary officials to serve his jail term. And there is also news that the position of many university lecturers and professors is under review and many face possible removal.

Students are actually in a worse situation than the lecturers. A large number of student activists have been summoned to Revolution Courts while some have already been sentenced to prison terms for various activities.

Recent student events in the country, some of which coincide with the talks that Afshari and Atri - both student activists – gave at a seminar organized by the US Congress send a distinct message to student activists. Incidents that may appear to be isolated events are now emerging as being part of a larger decision by the hardline administration in Tehran to crackdown student activism. The message is loud and clear and signals even harder days ahead for Iran’s students and those who are passionate and care about larger national events.