A large crowd of students, including men and women, hold signs in the air in front a a large white building.
In this statement issued on Aug. 8, 2012, Tahkim Vahdat, a major Iranian student union critiques the regime’s repression of the student movement and calls on the Supreme Leader to respect citizens’ freedom of speech and to release political prisoners, including students.
Tahkim Vahdat, Office for Consolidating Unity, to Ayatollah Khamenei: To Hear the Voice of the Universities, Meet with Imprisoned Students
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Tahkim Vahdat, The Office for Consolidating Unity [a major Iranian student union] has issued a statement responding to Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent remarks to an assembly made up of members of government-sponsored student organizations.
Criticizing the meeting between the Supreme Leader and a select number of handpicked students, the Office for Consolidating Unity (OCU) believes that the heart of the university is still suffering from the “stab wounds” inflicted by the Guardian Jurist’s loyalists, Daneshjoonews reports.
“The old injury of the Cultural Revolution was still painful when the university dormitories were attacked on the 18th of Tir [July 8, 1999]. The blade of reform was so blunt that it drew blood. Expulsion, threats, and prison became the norm for students. In Khordad of 1388 (June 2009), the dirt of “dignity” was still warm when again they dreamt of conquering the university dorms. Prison, torture, threats, and exile… became the souvenirs of an era when they nurtured spite in the name of religion and infuriated students…
Handpicking select students, who are members of government-sponsored associations, to put on a flattering show not only does nothing to reconstruct the image of the despots in the eyes of students, but will also strengthen their desire to reveal the secrets of this staged lie.”
Referring to Khamenei’s statement regarding tolerance and avoiding aggressive behavior, the OCU contrasts his words with the actions of forces who see themselves as “the Leader’s devotees.”
Later in the statement, the Union of Islamic Student Associations responded to Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks on the necessity of accepting criticism by stating: “If only he had also ordered tolerance towards dissident students and those who were critical of him. It is now meaningless to talk about any right to criticize the Leader. Appointed university officials have reacted harshly to any and all voices of dissent. Muslim student associations, independent student associations, cultural and artistic centers, student councils, and student newspapers face their most difficult conditions since the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005.”
Here is the full text of the OCU statement:
Since the establishment of the university system in Iran, the Iranian student movement has always been one of the pillars in the struggle against despotism. Diverse strands of student activism, with different views and approaches, fighting for the Iranian nation’s ideals and rejecting injustice and totalitarianism, have produced the fame and good reputation enjoyed by this movement. One of the consequences of this achievement is the opportunistic attempts by government-led forces to co-opt and change the face of this movement.
In recent days, it has been reported that some members of government-run institutions and associations had a meeting with the Leader of the Islamic Republic. The state-run media has published the story with the title: “Students Meeting the Revolution’s Leader.” This has happened while the heart of the universities still suffers from the stab wounds inflicted by the daggers of the Guardian Jurist’s loyalists.
The old injury of the Cultural Revolution was still painful when the university dormitories were attacked on the 18th of Tir [July 8, 1999]. The blade of reform was so blunt that it drew blood. Expulsion, threats, and prison became the norm for students. In Khordad of 1388 (June 2009), the dirt of “dignity” was still warm when again they dreamt of conquering the university dorms. Prison, torture, threats, and exile… became the souvenirs of an era when they nurtured spite in the name of religion and infuriated students.
If we leave this brief story of pain behind, Khamenei’s remarks in his meeting with loyalist students was salt in a fresh wound, in the face of which we cannot remain silent.
Handpicking select students – who are members of government-sponsored associations – to put on a flattering show not only does nothing to reconstruct the image of the despots in the eyes of students, but will also strengthen their desire to reveal the secrets of this staged lie.
The Office for Consolidating Unity, as the largest independent student association, has been under enormous pressure from the judiciary and officials of the executive in recent years. Nevertheless, as the true voice of the universities, it will never remain silent in the face of these lies.
The Leader of the Islamic Republic has emphasized the need for “political tolerance” and said that “there is no contradiction between being grounded in principles and following a clear orientation, but also being tolerant and non-aggressive towards people who disagree with your thinking – especially in politics.”
The attacks by militia groups associated with Ansar-e Hezbullah on intellectuals’ university lectures, the attacks by the Basij on student gatherings, and the attacks by uniformed and plainclothes security forces on university dorms in Tehran, Tabriz, and Esfahan are just a few examples of brutal and uncivilized behavior by people who consider themselves to be devotees of the Leader. These people have never been reprimanded, and if they had been, we would not have repeatedly witnessed such aggressive conduct over the years.
Referring to the judiciary’s treatment of Basiji bloggers who were accused of writing a piece targeting Javad Larijani, Ayatollah Khamenei says that “we should not take the somewhat harsh statements of a young student too much to heart.” Dealing with the youth “should not be harsh and violent,” he added.
If only he had also decreed tolerance towards dissident students and those who were critical of him. It is now meaningless to talk about any right to criticize the Leader. Appointed university officials have reacted harshly to any and all voices of dissent. Islamic student associations, independent student associations, cultural and artistic centers, student councils, and student newspapers face their most difficult conditions since the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005.
In its two reports to Ahmad Shahid, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, the OCU has noted 2,500 cases of students’ rights violations in the last three and a half years.
Other parts of the lecture by the Leader of the Islamic Republic, emphasizing the necessity of students’ criticism, sound like bitter sarcasm that remind us of the tens of students who are in prison only because they protested against the status quo.
More than thirty students are now imprisoned. A number of students have been sentenced to long prison terms merely for promoting the idea of a free and developed Iran. According to the OCU’s report to Ahmad Shahid, the average sentence given to a student is over 5 years.
The OCU suggests that Ayatollah Khamenei open the prison doors to hear real student voices and attend their gatherings, so that he may free himself from these staged scenes and walk among the scenes of truth.
Bahareh Hedayat, a member of the central council of the OCU, is now serving her 10-year term in Evin prison while suffering from illness. Majid Tavakoli, an Amir Kabir University student who was arrested in Azar 16th of 1388 (December 7th, 2009, or Student Day in Iran), is now serving his 8 ½ year sentence for criticizing the Leader of the Islamic Republic. Zia Nabavi and Majid Dorri have been sentenced, to 10 and 6 years respectively, for defending the right to education and now are exiled to Ahvaz Karun prison and Behbahan prison in harsh conditions. Hosein Rounaqi Maleki is sentenced to 15 years, and just after his hunger strike, he was temporarily released for medical treatment. Siavosh Hatam, the former secretary of the Muslim student association of Abu Ali Sina University in Hamedan and a member of the Central Committee of OCU, was recently detained to serve his 16-month term in prison. Shabnam Madad Zadeh is serving a 5 year sentence in Evin prison. Emad Bahavar, the head of Freedom Front’s youth branch, and Omid Kowkabi are sentenced to 10 years. Ali Akbar Mohammad Zadeh, Mitra Ali, and Navid Nozhat, some of Sharif University’s best students, are serving 6, 1, and 1-year sentences respectively. Iqan Shahidi and Sara Mahboubi, Baha’i students, have been sentenced to 5 and 10 years, and are deprived of university education for their religious beliefs. Arash Sadeqi, Mehdi Khoda’i, Babak Dashab, Hasan Asadi Zeidabadi, Hamed Omidi, Saeed Jalalifar, Ali Jamali, Hamed Rouhinejad, Ali Salem, and Fereshteh Shirazi are among the students who honor Iranian prisons with their presence.
Other than the imprisonment of student activists, the implementation of gender segregation in more than 60 universities next year is a sign of the insulting attitude held by the higher education administration toward academia. While 60 percent of current students are female, discriminatory policies against female students limits and prohibits them from choosing some majors. The diseased view of the officials has led to their building walls between male and female students, which will lead to stagnation and dullness in Iran’s university sphere. For Iranian officials, a good university is a dead one.
In the end, the Union of Islamic Student Associations and the Office for Strengthening Unity again emphasizes the country’s openness to dialogue. Based on its mission for the Iranian nation, it demands the Leader of the Islamic Republic act in accordance with his duty and responsibility to the nation and recognize the freedoms of choice, expression, assembly, and association for every individual, including university students.
In a time when the country lives under the shadow of war because of mismanagement by a despotic regime and when sanctions (called scrap paper by officials) reduce our own national currency to scrap paper, expectations of wisdom, prudence, and respecting the public’s will and opinions are unlikely to be realized. At the same time, it is an opportunity that could effectively avert the threats facing the people and their wealth. Releasing student prisoners, and all prisoners of conscience, could be the beginning of a path to returning dignity and honor to the Iranian people.
OCU’s Public Affairs Office
Mordad 1391 (August 2012)
Student Prisoners and Their Sentences
Name and Family Name Sentenced to
1. Hasan Asadi Zeidabadi 5 years
2. Hamed Omidi 3 years
3. Emad Bahavar 10 years
4. Majid Tavakkoli 8.5 years
5. Siavosh Haatam 1 year and 4 months
6. Saeed Jalalifar 3 years
7. Ali Jamali 2 years
8. Mehdi Khodai 7 years
9. Babak Dashab 5 years
10. Majid Dorri 6 years
11. Kaveh Rezai 1 year and 6 months
12. Hamed Rouhinejad 11 years
13. Hosein Rounaqi Maleki 15 years
14. Shahin Zainali 2 years and 3 months
15. Ali Salem 2 years
16. Iqan Shahidi 5 years
17. Fereshteh Shirazi 2 years
18. Arash Sadeghi 5 years
19. Omid Kowkabi 10 years
20. Habibullah Latifi Execution
21. Sara Mahbubi 10 months
22. `Adel Mohammad Hoseini 6 months
23. Ali Akbar Mohammad Zadeh 6 years
24. Shabnam Madad Zadeh 5 years
25. Ali Mullahaji 1 year
26. Ali Malihi 4 years
27. Zia Nabavi 10 years
28. Navid Nozhat 1 year
29. Bahareh Hedayat 10 years
It should be noted that, in addition to university students who are serving their terms, a number of other students are in the custody of the security forces. The number of students in prison is certainly higher than the number included in the above list, and when we receive more information, we will update it.