Iran 1999: Universities Under Attack, A Witness Testimony
In November and December 1998, undercover agents of the Ministry of Information assassinated four peaceful dissidents in Tehran. The newspaper Salam, investigating the killing of dissidents, revealed ties linking the killers, agents of the Ministry of information, with the regime's high ranking officials. These revelations resulted in the newspaper's immediate closure. The closing of Salam prompted a peaceful student protest . Backed by security forces , the regime's vigilantes retaliated with a ferocious attack on students' dormitories. The ensuing street demonstrations led to a massive wave of arrests among students and leading dissidents. To suppress demonstrations, the government resorted to violence again and many students were injured and at least seven were reported to have been killed by security forces only in Tehran. The government confirmed only the death of one student, Ezzat Ebrahim Nejad.
While revolutionary courts issued death sentences and lengthy prison terms for many students, they acquitted the security agents accused of attacking students dormitories. In the end, judicial authorities - against the spirit and the letter of Iran's criminal laws - organized a post-mortem trial where the victim, Ezzat Ebrahim Nejad, was posthumously found guilty of "crime against national security". His murderers were never brought to justice.
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the regime's wanton and tragic attack on university students across Iran, ABF is releasing a new English translation of the testimony of some of the students who witnessed the July 8th attack of the Tehran University dormitories by police and other government agents in retaliation for students' peaceful demand for justice and freedom of the press.
"What can I say? Even for me, it is hard to believe this"
In a messy room in one of the dormitories, a man is standing in his pajamas with his left arm wrapped in a cast. He looks perplexed. The room is in disarray, the door is broken, and there are rocks on the floor among the splinters of the shattered window glass scattered everywhere. A few torn and ruined backpacks add to the chaos of the room. The man says he is a veterinary student and has just been discharged from the hospital. He cannot even find a seat in this room, which appears to have been shaken by an earthquake. He describes the events of that night:
"We came to the windows to see why the glass was broken. We saw the rocks, which you can still see on the floor. The dorm was under attack. We locked the door, thinking we would be safe inside. We pulled the metal cabinet you see in front of the door to block any forced entry, but nothing could stop the attackers.
"They kicked and broke the door, while yelling, ‘Ya, Ali!' and ‘Ya, Hossein!' They made a hole in the door, broke the lock, and entered. Some were in plainclothes and others in police uniforms. One of them was General Nazari. I did not know him, but when I was released after two days of detention, he introduced himself to me.
"The attackers, members of the Ansar [Hezbollah] group [a government-funded Islamist militia], took us to the main gates of the campus. We were barefooted and wearing pajamas - the ones I am still wearing. The hospital gave me the slippers I'm now wearing. The attackers did not even let me take my eyeglasses with me. They threw my glasses and knocked the lenses out of the frame.At the entrance to the building, there were security agents and Ansar-e Hezbollah members who hit us with batons as we were forced out of the building. As you can see, they smashed and looted the room. They took everything we had, from radios and tape-recorders to cash, watches, and everything else."
In another dormitory, similar to the first one, there is a single, cleaned-up room with two military blankets in the middle of the destroyed property. A young man whose head has been bandaged is lying on the floor. Two other men are resting on the bunk beds. They are engineering students and war refugees, internally displaced from the Iran-Iraq war [zones in southern Iran]. They could not tolerate the destruction [in their dormitory room], and so they have cleaned up the mess from that eventful night.
The injured student says, "It all started when a group of about fifteen people gathered in front of Dorm Number 22. This was nothing unusual. There were always small crowds of people, for whatever reason. But that night, the crowd slowly grew. People started to shout some slogans, and whoever agreed with them joined in. After a short while, the students got very excited and started to march in the street. During this spontaneous demonstration, someone threw a rock at a kindergarten school's window and broke the glass. Police came and Dr. Davud Soleimani, assistant to the coordinator of cultural and students' affairs at Tehran University, as well as Dr. Mohammad Kazemi Kuhi, the dean of the dorms of Tehran University, arrived at the scene and convinced the students to go back to their dorms. Meanwhile, another group arrived and arrested Dr. Kuhi (who has since been released with the intervention of the Ministry of Intelligence). Mr. Kuhi asked to have five minutes to convince the students to go back to their dorms. Haji, head of the local police station, kicked him into a gutter and said, ‘You, people of the 2nd of Khordad [an allusion to the supporters of then President Mohammad Khatami], are unworthy.' An abrupt attack followed this incident. The attackers threw rocks and tear gas at the students and the students threw rocks back. It was not until 4 a.m. when the students fled the scene and returned to the dorms.
"Half an hour later - allegedly because of orders from some authorities - police and plainclothesagentsattacked the dorms from the main and west gates. Among the attackers were youth between 14 and 16 years old who were in charge of the operations, as incredible as that may be. We do not know who opened the west gates for the attackers, since the gates are usually closed at 11 p.m. During the following two hours, the attackers did whatever they pleased. At first, they said that those students who were in their rooms and whose lights were off would be left alone. But they broke their promise. They even attacked students who were studying on the lawn with their flashlights and tea flasks. They destroyed and looted their belongings and beat the students.
"At half past six in the morning, they came back to the dorms and went to Dorm 22. They destroyed everything on the first three floors. Members of the Ansar-e Hezbollah - who claim to be pious - yelled, ‘Ya, Hossein!' while also shouting expletives at the students. They threw the students, as well as their books and papers, out of the rooms, and set their clothes on fire. I could not believe my eyes that they even took those who were praying next to their Qurans and their books of prayers.
"There was a commotion at Shari'ati Hospital. As God as my witness, one of the students had a fifteen-centimeter gap in the skull. Many had broken arms and legs. We had no news from one of my friends for two days. When he finally came back, his clothes were torn, there were four knife wounds on his back, and one side of his face was swollen and bruised.
"All the while, the police supported the plainclothes agents. In Dorm 22, a 16-year-old led the operations. "The one who started shooting was a large person. He had a Colt gun and shot three times into the air and then started shooting directly at the students.
"What can I say? Even for me, it is hard to believe this. Just let the people know that we, the students, do not want another revolution. We do not want to change the supreme leader. Say this to everyone. We do not want destruction. We know what destruction means. We have experienced the bitter taste of displacement [during Iran-Iraq war 1980-1988], we know what it is like to study in villages and in tents. Despite our hardship, we managed to be admitted to the university and to be here today. We just want to reform the Revolution. How long should our unfortunate people live in misery while the gentlemen live in their palaces and pray on their gold carpets? Which Islam are they talking about? For how long should we remain silent?"
BBC NEWS, July 23, 1999.
Tehran University students "called for the resignation of the police chief, whom they hold responsible for an attack on student dormitories which they say resulted in the death of seven students and injuries to more than 200. The government has confirmed only one death," (Reuters, July 18, 1999). " ‘As for the exact number of the victims,' said M.K. Koohi, Director of Tehran University dormitories, ‘since I pledged to speak the truth, allow me not to answer this question.' " Interview of July 21, 1999, in the daily Hamshahri, July 22, 1999 (31/4/1378). The attack against the students of Tabriz University was even more violent. Tabriz University's Islamic Students Council said that at least 15 people were shot. ... A Council spokesman ... noted that some 80 people had already been injured by stones, clubs, and knives when security forces began opening fire into the crowd. ... Other vigilantes went to a local hospital and abducted those who had been wounded by gunfire." The daily Khordad, August 3, 1999 (12/5/1378).
These phrases are calls to the son-in-law (Ali) and the grandson (Hossein) of the Prophet Mohammad - the First and Third Imams of the Shiites, respectively - invoking their names and asking for their help.
People of the 2nd Khordad refers to the "reformists." The 2nd Khordad, 1367 A.H. ( i.e., May 23, 1997), was the day of the presidential election when the "reformist" candidate, Mohammad Khatami, was elected.