- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

Iranian authorities have rounded up scores of student activists in a bid to head off what several young people said will be massive demonstrations on university campuses across the country Monday.

Monday is National Students Day, named for the day in 1953 when armed forces entered the campus of Tehran University and killed three students protesting the government of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

The predicted protests would follow a pattern of using officially sanctioned holidays to show opposition to the June 12 election results that gave a tainted victory to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In the months since the election, demonstrators have broadened their targets to include Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as the Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary Basij forces, which are exerting increasing control over the Iranian political system.

Manouchehr Hassan Zadeh, a student at Ferdowsi University in the eastern city of Mashhad, said students are preparing for Monday and keeping in touch with counterparts on other campuses across the country.

“We are connected to students in Mazandaran, Shiraz, Shahr Kurd and Rasht universities, share ideas and encourage each other,” he told The Washington Times. “Many of our classmates are now in danger and if we quit they will be punished for nothing and will lose their faith in our valuable movements.”

Hadi Ghaemi, a spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said at least 90 students have been arrested in the past three weeks. Milad Asadi, a member of the Central Council of the Student Union to Foster Unity, Iran’s main student organization, was arrested at his home Tuesday.

“The government has rounded up well-known activists,” Mr. Ghaemi said. “Still, we’re expecting large demonstrations. The movement is truly grass-roots and picking up these opinion makers will only make the protests more unpredictable and spontaneous.”

A student at Azad University in Tehran who asked to be identified only by his first name, Ahmad, said he was arrested last week for holding a banner that read “Live free or die!”

The quotation, among the most popular in Iran since the 1979 revolution, sounds like an old American mantra that became the official motto of New Hampshire. It is also a saying of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Revered by Shi’ite Muslims, he was martyred in a seventh-century battle near Karbala in present-day Iraq - an event commemorated each year on Ashura, a religious holiday that falls this year on Dec. 27 and will provide another opportunity for anti-government protests.

“The opposition has decided to continue the cat-and-mouse game utilizing official holidays,” said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of the Middle Eastern studies program at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. He noted a steady stream of protests on campuses even as mass street demonstrations have ebbed.

“The students are going to come out no matter what,” he said.

The government has tried to discourage protests by stationing members of the Basij, a paramilitary group, on campuses. The Azad University student, Ahmad, said he was arrested by Basij members who entered the campus last week. He said he was released after a few hours but that his roommate is still in custody and facing a possible long jail term and expulsion from school.

Ahmad said he is supposed to be questioned by the university disciplinary committee and may not be allowed to finish this semester or begin the next.

“In order to stifle the student movement, a massive crackdown on students has been mounted but students are becoming more decisive as the pressures increase,” said another university political activist, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Afshin, because of fears of government retribution.

He said students are finding ways to continue to communicate and coordinate protests despite the crackdown.

Universities have been centers of protest in Iran since before the 1978-79 Islamic revolution. In 1978, the shah’s government postponed classes for several months, but campuses immediately erupted in clashes between students and security forces when classes began.

From 1980 to 1983, the government kept universities closed to pre-empt anti-Islamic and pro-communist demonstrations and to purge liberal scholars and academics who opposed stringent new dress codes and the stationing of clerics on university campuses.

The latest string of protests began on campuses in early November.

Faezeh, who is pursuing a master’s degree in sociology at Azad Islamic University in Tehran, said the protests are strengthening.

“Azad University students who pay an arm and leg for tuition have never before participated in such acts and movements but we observed one of the biggest protests ever” recently, she said.

A political science professor at Shiraz University, who also asked to be identified only by her first name, Nazanin, said students are reacting in part to recent statements by Ayatollah Khamenei criticizing courses about Western philosophy and literature and calling for a renewal of revolutionary spirit against outside enemies, which he has accused of waging a “soft war” against the Islamic republic.

Nazanin said students think these statements are a prelude to a “cultural revolution” like the one of the early 1980s.

Ayatollah Khamenei alienated many young Iranians when he quickly endorsed the re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad over opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi. The ayatollah said in October that anyone questioning the official results was committing “the biggest crime.”

“We were taught to resist cruelty by our culture and the books provided by Islamic republic authorities,” said Mr. Zadeh, the student in Mashhad. “Now how dare they ask us to ignore the values they funneled into our brains for years after revolution?”

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