THE BLOG

15 Years After the Iran Student Uprising; Crackdowns Remain Unaccountable

07/13/2014 10:27 EDT | Updated 09/11/2014 05:59 EDT

On July 9th 2014, more than 50 Iranian political prisoners gathered in GoharDasht prison in Karaj city of Tehran and commemorated the 15th anniversary of the Iran's historic student uprising.

2014-07-12-18tir088.jpg

July 9th, is the day we acknowledge the anniversary of the student uprising in Iran every year. On July 9 1999, locally known as '18 Tir' the biggest student uprising in Iran to have taken place after the 1979 Islamic revolution. On July 8th through July 14, Iran and the world saw the birth of the country's first secular and independent student movement. The uprising, which commenced on the eve of July 8th in Tehran's student dormitory, expanded in Tabriz and other major cities and ended on the 14th, has held a strong presence in the history of modern day Iran. This weeklong event resulted in endless brutality, arrests and tortures.

To many this may just be another anniversary of a sad and haunting event that occurred throughout these past 3 authoritarian decades, but to me it is much more than that. I was there and not only did I witness it but I experienced it as well, alongside the many other students and classmates of mine. Fifteen years may have passed, but to me and the thousands of other brave souls, it feels like it just occurred yesterday. That week changed our lives forever. Looking back now, it is evident that while we marched the streets and voiced our rights, the government managed to take away our innocence and our belief that the government will always have our backs. It was there and then, when our eyes were opened to the government's injustices and the many other that were to come after that.

On the eve of July 8th, university students started their peaceful protests in their dormitories as a result of the government shutting down a popular reformist newspaper called Salam. The newspaper was shut down two days prior to the protest, due to them publishing a confidential letter from Saeed Emami, deputy of the ministry of intelligence, to the GhorbanAli Dori NajafAbadi, the head of the ministry of intelligence. In this confidential letter, Saeed Emami had threatened the media and press. This letter exposed the ministry of intelligence's involvement in the shutting down of the papers, and repressing the activist movements. Saeed Emami was also the head of a terror team within the ministry of intelligence that was responsible for permanently removing important political activists and writers after questioning them. One year prior to the student uprising, Saeed Emami and his team permanently eliminated well-known Iranian writers including Pirouz Davani, Mohammad Mokhtari, Jafar Pouyandeh and two opposition leaders Dariush Forouhar and Parvaneh Forouhar. The Iranian government at that time, which was led by President Khatami, released a statement in December 1998 verifying that the ministry of intelligence was behind the murder of these writers and activists. There were others in their list of terror but the killing machine was stopped.

When the students peacefully protested the shutdown, they were surprised when the police, Hezbollah and Basij forces responded with violence and raided and destroyed their dormitories. As a result, more students came to the rescue and forced the police out of the dormitories. In the process, a number of policemen were kept as hostages by the students. The next day, the students brought the movement out of the dormitories and into the streets of Tehran. They occupied the main intersections and expanded the uprising. The reason they were able to put together this large-scale movement was because they all had one shared goal; to gain freedom and basic human rights that were promised to them by the reformist government but never delivered.

This event, which marks the birth of a secular student movement occurred because students did not appreciate the intertwinement of religion and politics, and wanted a more secular policies from the Islamic government of Iran. In addition, the government the previous year, and many years before that by the preceding governments had murdered a number of important activists and writers. The Khatami administration had promised to put an end to the "chain murders" and bring justice to the family of those who were unfairly killed, but there has been no justice.

The Student United Front was the only independent student organization that managed to unite the protesters and lead a large-scale movement. They believed in a secular democracy and wanted to enlarge the movement, so that they can attain fundamental changes within the government. The board members of this organization, including myself, were arrested during the protests and were held in an unknown detention center run by the ministry of intelligence where they were unjustly tortured and beaten.

On the other hand, government officials were able to control the protests using the reformist student organization called "Daftar-e-Tahkim". This student organization believed that the reformist government would deliver on their promises and wanted the movement to stay within the halls of the dormitories. This is one of the main reasons the movement was not able to attain its initiated goals. While the independent student movement wanted to take their protests to the streets, the reformist organization wanted the exact opposite.

The police and other forces were told to only attack the movements that were directed towards important government offices. They were afraid that the uprising would gain more momentum and expand. On the other hand, they backed off movements that were within the dormitories. Throughput the week, the ministry of intelligence sent undercover agents between these movements to identify students who were leading these uprisings. Later on they used this information, to arrest and detain them. On the 13th of July, Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, went on national television and for the first time cried in public. He blamed the students for what had occurred within the nation but said "it's ok if the students tear my pictures." The day after, massive arrests commenced. We too were arrested, amongst thousands of others.

I was sitting in the office interviewing with an international news agency, when suddenly a large number of intelligence officers stormed in through the glass windows and forced us all on the ground and sprayed our eyes with hazardous sprays. Our time had arrived. They questioned us for hours, but we refused to provide them with inlet. As a result, we were beaten with wooden sticks and power cables and then taken to an unknown detention center.

As a result of this movement, the government promised that those who violently beat up the students, arrested them and killed them would be prosecuted and brought to justice. One of the students who as a result of the beatings, lost one of his eyes, appeared in court and asked the court to punish those who took away his eyesight. Not surprisingly, the government once again did not deliver on their promise. All the souls that died in this path were not avenged for. The government and judicial did not bring justice to those who had harmed the students and the students' blood went unaccounted for. Till this day, we are yet to see justice.

This is the first anniversary of this tragic event with this new moderate government led by President Hassan Rouhani. We have yet to see how this government will respond to the promises made 15 years ago. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that this government too will not deliver despite their policies towards students being more moderate than the previous government led by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The reason behind this is that during that uprising, Mr. Rouhani was the head of National Security Council and played a major role in the suppression of the movement. There is a possibility that his views and ideologies have changed a bit over the years; only time can tell. However, student activities remain under suppressions.

Despite the many efforts of the Iranian regime to erase this event from the minds of the Iranian people, the students became more determined to attain their goals. This movement not only opened the doors to dialogue regarding secular democracy, but also showed the Iranian people that change is possible. Every year on the anniversary of this tragic event, the movement gained more momentum, and we saw the many protests over years and the second biggest uprising in June 2009, known to the world as the green movement, a movement once again led by the students.

On July 9th 2014, more than 50 political prisoners gathered in GoharDasht prison in Tehran and commemorated the 15th anniversary of the uprising. Mr. Heshmat Tabarzadi, Saeed Razavi Faghih, Khaled Hardani, Saeed Masouri spoke at the event and messages from two former July 1999 uprising leaders were read. Prisoners started the event with one minutes silence in memory of Akbar Mohammad, Ezzat Ebrahim Nejad, Fereshteh Alizadeh, Tami Hamifar, and those others lost their lives in the uprising.

It has been fifteen years, and still our promises have not been delivered. I was not alone. Thousands of innocent brave students have fought this battle by me and after me and yet we have failed to see any positive results. For those who survived and weren't killed, this battle has brought us endless scars. We have lost years of our lives either living in fear, or living in solidarity confinement, or in the rotting cells of known and unknown detention centers. Our recounts of the physical and mental torturous methods used by the government and the ministry of intelligence are endless, yet we never gave up and never will because we believed and still believe that we have the right to freedom, we have the right to basic human rights and most importantly we have a right to speak. Our voices must be heard and one day in the near future, it finally will be. The Iranian regime still owes us justice and a through investigation of the events. The exact number of victims remain unknown and simple public mourning is prohibited.