Checkpoints, censorship and raids on universities: crackdown marks first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death in Iran

An Uraani woman without the mandatory veil walks her dog in a park where anti-government graffiti is covered with black paint (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) (Vahid Salemi/)

Road checkpoints. Internet interruptions. Raids on universities. Iran’s theocracy is striving both to ignore the upcoming anniversary of national demonstrations against the country’s mandatory veil law and to mitigate any possibility of further unrest.

However, the death of Mahsa Amini, aged 22, on September 16, continues to resonate throughout Iran. Some women have decided not to wear a veil or hijab, despite increasingly strict measures by the authorities.

In a hurry, Tehran municipal workers are covering graffiti in black, probably against the government of Iran. University professors have been fired for allegedly supporting protesters.

A group of people light a bonfire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, Iran, September 21, 2022 (West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)
A group of people light a bonfire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, Iran, September 21, 2022 (West Asia News Agency via REUTERS) (WANA NEWS AGENCY/)

International pressure against Iran remains higheven as the administration attempts to reduce tensions with other nations in the region and the West after years of confrontation.

“Weaponizing ‘public morality’ to deny women and girls their freedom of expression is completely disempowering, entrenching and amplifying gender discrimination and marginalization,” independent United Nations experts warned. earlier this month.

The protests over Amini’s death that erupted after her arrest a year ago by morality police, allegedly for her hijab, represented one of the biggest challenges to the Iranian theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The severe measures subsequently implemented by the security forces left 500 dead and more than 22,000 detained.

A police motorcycle burns during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, in Tehran, September 19, 2022 (West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)
A police motorcycle burns during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, in Tehran, September 19, 2022 (West Asia News Agency via REUTERS) (WANA NEWS AGENCY/)

Iran’s government, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has blamed the West for fomenting the unrest, without offering evidence to support this accusation. However, the protests were buoyed by the widespread economic difficulties that 80 million Iranians have faced since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018. unilaterally.

With the return of Western sanctions, the Iranian currency – the rial – plummeted, decimating the population’s savings. The inflation gripped the nation, and as a result, prices for food and other basic goods soared, in part due to global pressures following the coronavirus pandemic and the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine. In official figures, the unemployment The total reaches 8%, although one in five young Iranians does not have a job.

Videos from last year’s demonstrations showed many young people participating in the protests, so authorities appear to have focused more on Iranian universities in recent weeks. There is a historical precedent that explains this: in 1999, student demonstrations spread in Tehran, leaving at least three dead and 1,200 detained, and quickly spread to other cities.

A man views a newspaper with the cover photo of Mahsa Amini (Majid Asgaripour/West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)
A man views a newspaper with the cover photo of Mahsa Amini (Majid Asgaripour/West Asia News Agency via REUTERS) (WANA NEWS AGENCY/)

While universities largely remain one of the few safe places for students to demonstrate, The schools have felt the most recent implementation of the severe measures. Over the past year, the Iranian Students Union has claimed that hundreds of students faced disciplinary panels at their universities as a result of the protests.

During the same period, at least 110 university professors, adjunct and full-time, have been fired or temporarily suspended, according to a report in the reformist newspaper Etemad. The layoffs have been mostly concentrated in schools in Tehran, including Azad University in Tehran, Tehran University and Tehran Medical University.

Etemad assures that those fired are from two groups: teachers concerned with the election of radical president Ebrahim Raisi and those who supported the demonstrations after Amini’s death.

But At other universities there were also layoffs.

At the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, professor of artificial intelligence and bioinformatics, Ali Sharifi Zarchi, a critic supported his students who participated in the demonstrations, for which he was subsequently interrogated by Iranian security forces, and he was one of those fired.

15,000 people signed a petition urging the university to overturn his dismissal. “Pressuring teachers and students constitutes a black mark on the proud history of #Tehran_University and must stop,” Zarchi wrote online before his dismissal.

Also among the fired university professors is Hossein Alaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guard paramilitary group and former deputy defense minister, as well as Reza Salehi Amiri, former culture minister. A decade ago, Alaei compared Khamenei to the former shah of Iran, while Amiri was a former official in the administration of relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

Rouhani, whose government agreed to a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, has criticized the university layoffs.

“Destroying the prestige of universities and their professors… is a loss for students, science and the country,” Rouhani said, according to a report by online news site Jamaran.

The director of the University of Tehran, Mohammad Moghimi, has attempted to defend the dismissals by detailing that professors faced “ethical problems”. Some extremists have also insisted that the firings were not political, although the extremist newspaper Kayhan directly linked the firings and the protests.

It is not logical to allow anyone to dissent from the system under the leadership of foreigners”wrote the newspaper.

Protesters on the streets of Tehran say the government’s measures are likely to make the situation worse.

They want to put their people in university in the hope of stopping the demonstrations, but we students will show our objections in unimaginable ways.”said Shima, a 21-year-old college student. “They couldn’t prevent last year’s protests because no one can predict an earthquake.”

The authorities “are fighting windmills with wooden swords,” added Farnaz, a 27-year-old university student. Both women only gave their names for fear of reprisals.

The government has tried not to give statements regarding the anniversary. Raisi never said Amini’s name during a recent press conference with the media, and also mentioned the protests in passing. Iran’s state and semi-official media have also avoided mentioning the anniversary, signaling pressure from the government.

But privately, activists report an increase in the number of people questioned and detained by security forces, including an uncle of Amini.

Saleh Nikbakht, Amini’s family lawyer, faces legal proceedings, accused of disseminating “propaganda” in his interviews with foreign media.

In recent days, more police have been seen on the streets of Tehran, including roadblocks for motorcyclists in the country’s capital. Internet access has also been significantly disrupted in recent days, according to the advocacy group NetBlocks.

And abroad, Iranian state media reported that someone set tires on fire outside the Iranian embassy in Paris over the weekend. Demonstrations are planned to mark the anniversary this Saturday in different cities abroad.

(With information from AP)