Iranian university students launched protests against the country’s rulers on Saturday, giving new momentum to the anti-regime protests which have been going on for two weeks despite an intensification of the Islamic republic’s crackdown.
As the new academic year officially began, students at the capital’s prestigious Tehran University and other demonstrators in nearby streets chanted slogans while riot police patrolled on motorcycles, shooting tear gas and urging the crowd to disperse, eyewitnesses said.
Universities in other major cities such as Mashhad in the north-east, Tabriz in the north-west, Kerman in the south and Yazd as well as Isfahan in central Iran, also held protests according to videos posted on social media.
“The clergy should get lost,” chanted people in central Tehran. “We don’t want the Islamic republic,” students inside Tehran University said.
“Students at universities are surely giving the protests a new energy as the youth can create synergies when they get together,” said Saeed Laylaz, a reformist analyst. “This could mean protests will continue for now.”
The wave of protests began in mid-September after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman from the northwestern town of Saqqez, died while in the custody of the morality police. She was detained in a park in Tehran for allegedly breaching the obligatory Islamic dress code.
Her tragic death has rocked Iran, triggering the biggest anti-regime protests since 2019, when a rise in fuel prices caused unrest.
Officials have sought to convince Iranians that her death was probably caused by underlying diseases rather than punishment in detention.
Saturday’s escalation came after several days when the protests subsided. Protests expanded in the evening in various neighbourhoods in Tehran and other cities. Demonstrators have also urged businesses and shops to shut and help stage a general strike across the country. Shopkeepers in Vahdat-e Eslami, in southern Tehran, were forced by protesters to close early, eyewitnesses said, or else their windows could be smashed.
Some women protesters in Tehran walked around the university without scarves, passing the riot police but showing little fear. The semi-official Fars news agency — which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards — said some protesters in Tehran were arrested.
Many of the demonstrators are young and come from the country’s urban middle class; they do not have any known leader. Their main slogan has become “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Young women have burnt their scarves in protest at the hijab.
Javan daily newspaper, affiliated to the guards, said 93 per cent of protesters were aged up to 25 years old “which shows a new generation of rioters in the country in the making”.
A female protester said she objected to a regime which “wants us to go to mosques but sends its own children to Canada to enjoy life”.
Iranian state television said last week that 41 people died during the protests, a figure which has not been updated in recent days. Amnesty International said on Friday that Iran’s crackdown had caused at least 52 deaths while hundreds were injured.
Hundreds have been arrested, including nine foreign nationals whose identities have not been disclosed, domestic media have reported. Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of the late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was also arrested last week.
Iran’s opposition leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi who has been under house arrest since 2011, said in a message on Saturday that Amini’s death “is turning history’s page”. He urged the armed forces “to be on the nation’s side” and “defend people, not suppress them”.
Meanwhile tensions erupted in the south-eastern province of Sistan Balochistan on Friday and 19 people, including security forces, were killed, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. The conflict came after a senior police official allegedly raped a 15-year-old ethnic Baluchi girl.
The province’s governor, Hossein Modarres Khiabani, accused “separatist terrorists” of attacking the police centre and some banks and chain stores on Friday.