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Iran students abroad stand in solidarity as peers lead uprisings

Iranians studying abroad have taken to the streets in solidarity with the student-led, anti-government protests that erupted across Iran in September, while efforts have begun to protect Iranian scholars involved in the uprising.   

Iranians studying abroad have been holding vigils and protests in solidarity with anti-government protests in Iran. Photo: Unsplash

The brutality of the Iranian regime’s response has raised concerns about academic freedom

Iranian student associations across Canada have said they “firmly stand by our Iranian student peers who have been deprived of their most fundamental and quintessential rights” in a joint statement released on October 4. 

“We all want to do our part and make the world recognise what’s going on in Iran,” said Romina, an Iranian PhD student at McMaster University in Ontario. 

“What we’re trying is just to inform other people of what’s going on in Iran and that we ask the governments to cut any relations that they have.”

McMaster Iranian Graduate Student Society was one of many student organisations across the world that has organised vigils and protests in support of the movement in Iran in recent weeks.

But it can be dangerous for Iranians to speak out against the government, even if they are living abroad. Romina said that some students had been wearing masks to protests to prevent the government from recognising them in footage and targeting their families living in Iran. 

Students have been at the forefront of the demonstrations in Iran, which were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini three days after she was detained by the Iranian morality police. 

“We all want to do our part and make the world recognise what’s going on in Iran”

Students at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology were arrested for demonstrating at the institution in a violent crackdown by police forces two weeks after Amini’s death. Earlier this week, school girls across the country began publicly participating in the protests, including removing their headscarves and, in one case, reportedly chasing an Iranian official out of their school. Teachers across the country have also been holding strikes in support of the uprising. 

The brutality of the Iranian regime’s response has raised concerns about academic freedom and the welfare of students and teachers. Scholars at Risk told The PIE News that it is “deeply concerned” about the use of force against students.

“Academic freedom and the rights of scholars and students have been routinely violated in Iran over the years,” said a spokesperson from the NGO. “From disciplinary actions and travel restrictions to arrests and prison sentences, the Iranian academic community has long suffered the threat of severe punishment for their research, teaching, ideas, and collaborations with fellow scholars and students. These recent events underscore these longstanding concerns and demand the international community’s attention.”

SAR called on governments and the UN to hold Iranian authorities to account and for the global higher education community to continue to support at-risk Iranian scholars and students, including through hosting arrangements and advocacy.

Stephen Wordsworth, executive director of Cara, said the organisation for at-risk academics is “already supporting a small number of academics from Iran” and is “watching developments closely”. 

“Academic freedom brings great benefits to society; we hope that a way can be found for peaceful progress in Iran so that Iranians who value academic freedom will not be forced to seek exile abroad, but rather can stay to support the development of their country,” he said. 

Canada imposed new sanctions on Iranian officials on October 3, and the EU is now considering similar action. 

DAAD, the German academic exchange service, condemned the violence and said it is working to “clarify” the consequences of potential sanctions on institutions that have research links with Iran. 

“We stand in solidarity with the courageous students and university staff in their peaceful protests,” said Joybrato Mukherjee, president of DAAD. “We will therefore continue our efforts to support those civil society forces that stand up for individual and social freedom rights in Iran and for peaceful coexistence between states and cultures in the region. These have a particularly strong base at the country’s universities.”

Meanwhile, Romina believes that shows of solidarity by international students like herself will continue as long as the uprising in Iran goes on. She hopes that those living in Iran will see the support they are receiving from around the world and that it will lift their spirits. 

“We’re trying to raise their hope and tell them that ‘you matter’, at least to us,” she said. 

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