Students Day protests sweep campuses across Iran
by CORRESPONDENT in Washington, D.C.
08 Dec 2009 03:30
Witnesses said security forces had sealed the main gates and surrounding walls of Tehran University with banners and bus blockades to prevent views into the campus and prohibit students from joining protestors outside the university walls.
Tens of thousands of Basij militia forces, armed with guns, stun guns, paintball guns, batons and tear gas joined thousands of anti-riot and police forces to fight and disperse protesters in squares throughout the Iranian capital, according to witness reports and videos posted on YouTube.
Large-scale demonstrations took place at universities in major cities throughout the country, including Mashhad, Tabriz, Kerman, Hamedan, Arak, Shahr Kord, Zanjan, Karaj, Gilan, Yasouj, Ilam, Hormozgan, Shiraz and Isfahan. In the Iranian capital, protests were held at Tehran University's main campus and College of Art campus, as well as at other major universities, including Amir Kabir, Khajeh Nasr, Sharif, Azad Central, and Elm-o-Sanat (Science and Technology).
Witnesses driving along the streets bordering Tehran University's main campus in central Tehran said it "looked and felt like martial law" had been imposed in the Iranian capital. Security forces also fired gun shots into the air during some of the clashes with protesters, they said.
"I got to Tehran University at 1 pm. Protesters in scattered pockets walked along the sidewalks of nearby streets -- Vesal, 16 Azar, Keshavarz Blvd, and others -- among heavy security presence. Near Valiasr Square, security forces attacked us with tear gas, batons and paint-ball guns, and also fired shots into the air to disperse us," one eyewitness told Tehran Bureau in a telephone interview. "I was seized at some point while running and was clubbed and kicked in the abdomen. I was sure I would be arrested, but surprisingly they let me go," the witness said.
University student protests on Iran's national Student Day -- which commemorates the December 7 killing of three Tehran University students during demonstrations in 1953 against then US-backed monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi -- are traditionally sanctioned by the Iranian government as a means of voicing national anti-Americanism.
But Monday's Student Day rallies were the latest in a string of state-backed demonstrations to be used by supporters of Iran's opposition Green Movement -- who claim the country's June 12 presidential elections were fraudulent -- as an opportunity to hit the streets and voice their opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration.
State police officials and Tehran's State Prosecutor warned last week that protests outside university campuses and without a permit from the Ministry of Higher Education would be considered "illegal" and subject to a harsh "crackdown," according to state news agencies and Reformist news websites.
Numerous student leaders were either arrested or expelled from universities in the weeks running up to Student Day, and foreign media reporters were formally barred by Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance from attending street events and reporting outside their offices from December 7-9. Internet services were considerably slowed down during the two days prior to Student Day, and mobile phone service was briefly cut in central Tehran, witnesses said.
"By 11am, students had taken out articles of green [the trademark color of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi] clothing, such as scarves and wristbands (from) their bags as well as green balloons they filled up with air. Some had hid green clothing and shawls stashed away on campus. They began chanting non-radical slogans such as Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein and Allah-o-Akbar ("God is Great")," according to an eyewitness.
Students shouted slogans, including "Basiji go home -- no free meal today" and "Get lost, mercenary," at members of the Basiji forces and student Basiji organizations, who replied with shouts of "Death to Traitors," witnesses said. One eye witness told Tehran Bureau that Basijis on Tehran University's campus were not armed.
As the day progressed, slogans shouted by students and street protesters grew more intense and angry, with shouts of newly coined slogans, including "[Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei should know, he is on his way out," "Our curse, our shame, our incompetent Leader," and "What happened to the oil money? It was spent on the Basiji," witnesses said.
Witnesses said students on Monday also burned caricatures of the Iranian president. Students also carried flags without the emblem of "Allah" -- a coat of arms logo that was added to Iran's flag after the country's 1979 revolution, according to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau