Dutch higher education must make a statement on Iran’s situation

opinion | by guest authors

October 17 2022 | As guardians of open debate and academic freedom, it is the duty of Dutch higher education institutions to speak out about abuses at home and abroad. That is why the use of violence against pupils, students and staff of higher education institutions in Iran must be condemned, says Pedram Soltani, a doctoral student at TU Delft, on behalf of a group of Dutch-Iranians. They call on Dutch higher education to condemn this violence and provide as much assistance as possible to Iranian students and academics.

A vigil in Dam Square in Amsterdam against the Islamic regime in Tehran. Photo: PersianDutchNetwork.

Iran is entering its fifth week of protests against the Islamic dictatorship. The protests are prompted by the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, Gina Mohasa Amini. Amini died after being forcibly detained by the morality police for not wearing the hijab – which is mandatory in Iran for women and girls age 7 – and older. Students, pupils and teachers are striking and demonstrating in universities, secondary and primary schools. We call on educational and knowledge institutions in the Netherlands to show solidarity and speak frankly.

Women, life, freedom

Brave men and women from all social classes and regions of Iran appear to risk their lives for their basic human rights. One of the important slogans of the demonstrations was “Zan Zandegi Azadi” (translated: “Woman, life, freedom”). The protesters are thus demanding women’s rights and a society free from inequality, poverty, discrimination and political oppression. In addition, they are fighting for free education, in a country that is known for its brain imigrante abroad.

The security apparatus of the Islamic Republic suppresses large-scale demonstrations and strikes. Protesters are shot, arrested, ill-treated and killed en masse. The current death toll is estimated to be more than 200 people, including at least 28 children. The number of detainees is estimated in the thousands. Countless pupils, students and staff were born and/or trained in Dutch educational and cognitive institutions in Iran. They are currently witnessing online violence against their relatives, friends, fellow students and colleagues.

Education in Iran is not safe

The academic and educational community in Iran actively participates in the demonstrations. Students from several universities have called for a boycott of classes and attendance at demonstrations in statements. They also demand the release of the arrested students. They are supported in this by teachers and education unions, who in turn have spoken out against the violence and repression of the Iranian regime.

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Videos on social media show that high school students, mostly girls, are also protesting by not attending class, taking off the mandatory hijab on the school grounds, tearing pictures of ayatollahs from their textbooks and singing protest songs together.

Concerns about Iranian students

Pupils and students are oppressed with aggressiveness. Demonstrations were suppressed on many university campuses and students were cordoned off, shot and arrested. Young students were also arrested on the school grounds, and tear gas was used in an elementary school building. Iran’s education minister said the detained students were sent to psychiatric institutions for “re-education”. Teachers are pressured to hand over personal details to absentees and/or show pupils and students. If they refuse, they are also arrested, as happened recently to the director of the Karaj Girls Conservatory.

We are very concerned about the safety of pupils, students and employees of educational and knowledge institutions in Iran. At risk to their lives, they talk and spread information via social media. To prevent the spread of that information, Iranian authorities block the Internet. Therefore, it is difficult to contact relatives, friends, colleagues and fellow students in Iran.

Dutch institutions must speak

In order to put more pressure on the regime, support the Iranians in their struggle and keep in touch with the Dutch Iranians and students, more social attention should be paid to this issue. Dutch educational and cognitive institutions play an important role in this. As guardians of open debate and academic freedom, they must speak out about abuses at home and abroad.

To our disappointment, this has yet to occur on a large scale with respect to Iran and few institutions or organizations (including De Jonge Akademie, NWO and Erasmus University) have published or endorsed a statement of support. That is why we call on educational and knowledge institutions to unite and speak through:

1) Strongly condemns the acts of violence and the arrest of students, students and teachers, and demands their release.

2) Dedicate yourself to supporting Iranian students, students and staff in both the Netherlands and Iran who are directly or indirectly affected by the situation. This may include, among other things:

  • facilitating celebrations, information meetings and other initiatives;
  • Creation of an emergency fund for pupils and students in financial need;
  • Absorbing fugitive students, students, and academics through temporary and/or permanent places of work and study;
  • Providing psychological support to pupils, students and staff through workshops, training courses and the dissemination of psychologists;
  • Creation of an information desk for pupils and refugee students from Iran that will assist them in choosing a study and specific questions about studying in the Netherlands;
  • To reduce the tuition fee rate for students who fled Iran to the legal rate, so that they pay the same amount as Dutch students.

3) Determining the results of the demonstrations on the existing partnerships with Iranian educational and scientific institutions.

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