ANALYSIS: Islamic Republic’s Suppression of a National Movement

By Roshanak Astaraki

The Islamic Republic has marked the start of the new school year by intensifying its efforts to stifle student movement and the activities of teachers’ unions. The state is tightening its grip on Iranian society by using security agencies and the Judiciary to enforce “mandatory hijab” and prosecute civil, political, and union activists.

While the Islamic Republic has become synonymous with “oppression” for the past 44 years, the Iranian government’s think tanks have devised new methods to persecute Iranian citizens at every juncture. The scale and scope of the Islamic Republic’s “creative” and “imaginative” methods of oppressing and humiliating its citizens are unequalled in the world.

Meanwhile, the state security apparatus has broadened its nationwide operations to harass, intimidate, and persecute ordinary citizens, particularly on the anniversary of the national uprising sparked by the death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman accused of wearing “improper hijab,” who lost her life on Sept. 16, 2022, while in the custody of the Morality Police in Tehran.

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It is increasing university security and humiliating students, who represent the country’s future, and have recently become the regime’s chief priority. The intensified intrusion into students’ daily lives and security measures in universities have severely threatened higher education programs and the country’s entire education system.

However, the remarkable presence of university students in last year’s national uprising, the student movement’s support for “Iran” and “people’s rights,” and opposition to various state factions delivered a massive blow to the conservative and reformist plans to control student movement in the country.

The regime began its crackdown on the student movement last fall. It launched a campaign of fear and intimidation to create a rift between the students and the street protesters. Through gatherings, demonstrations, and university protests, students foiled any attempt by the reformists to hijack the student movement, prompting the state to broaden and escalate its efforts to tighten its grip on universities.

To curtail any future protest, administration and disciplinary committees in universities across Iran have suspended, expelled, or forcefully transferred thousands of students. The Judiciary and state security apparatus continue to destroy the student movement by arresting and imprisoning students.

The recent attempt to intimidate academics is a throwback to the months following the 1979 Islamic Revolution when the regime systematically persecuted university faculty under its “cultural revolution” ideology.

According to several reports, state security agencies have escalated their campaign against academics in the past year. At least 120 university professors were suspended, fired, or forced into early retirement between August 2022 and September 2023.

The Islamic Republic’s recent deliberate attempt to fill academic posts with “trusted insiders” has prompted many university professors and faculty members to move to other countries.

Although domestic media and some news outlets abroad describe the persecution of university professors as mere “severing employment ties,” the concerted measure is an outright assault on the foundation of the modern higher education system laid by the Royal Vazir (Chief Minister) Mirza Taghi Khane-Farahani (1807-1852), better known as Amir Kabir, who founded the Dar ul-Funun school of higher education in Tehran in 1851.

The firing of qualified professors and expelling students after four decades, signaling a repeat of the “cultural revolution,” exposes the regime’s incompetence and ineffectiveness. The regime’s attempt to humiliate students coincided with the opening of universities.

To humiliate and punish students who stood with the people and protesters last year in the national uprising, the government has issued strict dress codes in universities, reportedly formed gender-based classrooms, and placed many “Guidance Patrol” units on university campuses.

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The conditions are the same in all other schools, with the government monitoring and restricting the activities of students and installing cameras in many schools. There are allegedly cameras in Farzanegan Girls Middle School and high school bathrooms in Tehran’s 6th School District.

Meanwhile, the Judiciary has summoned hundreds of teachers’ union activists in recent months. Over 20 teachers are in prison in various towns, and many others are “under judgment,” i.e., the Judiciary has kept their files open. Many schoolteachers have been suspended, expelled, or forced into early retirement, like university professors. Others face demotion, loss of their “ranking,” and salary reduction.

Iran’s Minister of Education, Rezamorad Sahraei, said on Sept. 21 that the government had replaced 20,000 school principals this year.

“To transform our schools, nearly 20,000 school principals have been replaced this year,” the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on Sept. 21, quoting Minister Sahraei. “Also, 7,000 additional schools have been marked for the same change. We will reform 5,000 schools this year.”

According to union activists, the situation is far worse than implied by the number that Minister Sahraei has given.

The mass expulsion of school administrators and teachers exacerbates the situation because the country faces a shortage of 300,000 teachers. As a result, many students will attend classes with no teacher at the start of the school year.

While admitting to the massive shortage of teachers in the country, Minister Sahraei has attributed the problem to the incomplete hiring process, “which has unfortunately left many classes with no teacher, but we will solve the problem by mid-October.”

By hiring new teachers, Sahraei means filling all vacant positions with seminarians and Basij (volunteer militia) members. The Ministry of Education uses a similar process in universities, posing a severe crisis for the entire education system.

It would seem the regime has a long-term plan to pressure and punish students, who during last year’s protest, took down pictures of Iran’s Leader, Ali Khamenei, and founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini, in classrooms and gave their middle fingers to the Islamic Republic.

Under its “safeguarding chastity” scheme, the government reportedly plans to raise the walls around girls’ schools, cover all windows, and build roofs over all open spaces, including playgrounds, turning schools into semi-prisons. Restricting school activities is the latest “innovative” measure from the government’s think tanks.

The Judiciary and security agencies have also intensified their efforts to crack down on civil, political, and union activists and those seeking justice for their loved ones who lost their lives at the hands of riot police and security forces.

Meanwhile, the revolutionary courts have handed record numbers of prison sentences, and many previously sentenced activists are imprisoned.

In recent weeks, police and security forces have harassed and pressured families of those who lost their lives during last year’s protests, preventing many from holding ceremonies on the anniversary of the death of their loved ones. Authorities have also detained, assaulted, prosecuted, imprisoned, and even placed under house arrest members of these grieving families.

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As part of its efforts to control the population, the government has increased public surveillance under the pretext of “battling hijab violations” by unleashing the Morality Police and plainclothes police who harass and intimidate the public.

The Iranian public has endured economic hardships for decades and is now experiencing increased oppression. Adding insult to injury and humiliating its citizens further, the Iranian government has blocked the internet while offering foreign visitors a “tourist sim card.”

Even in the most remote parts of the globe, people have access to the internet, but Iranians must spend exorbitant fees to buy a virtual private network (VPN) to bypass the government’s blocking of the internet.

Schemes such as the “tourist sim card” are part of the regime’s broader propaganda program to portray Iran as an open society while it continues intruding into people’s daily lives and tightening its grip on the Iranian nation.

However, in the past four decades, Iranian people have continuously opposed the regime, culminating in last year’s nationwide protest that gained international support and morphed into a national movement.

Since last September, Iranians from every walk of life have shown that they risk everything for freedom and human rights. They continue their fight for their human, civil, and legal rights against the Islamic Republic regime.

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