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The Mahsa Revolution and Student Protests in Iran

This report details the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement in Iran that emerged after the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022, while in police custody. Despite facing intense repression, these student movements persist in their advocacy for human rights in Iran.

The Mahsa Revolution and Student Protests in Iran
This report was prepared by the Amirkabir Newsletter

The "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement and the Mahsa Revolution refer to the socio-political transformations in Iran that have occurred since the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, a 22-year-old girl who died while in the custody of the morality police on September 16, 2022. Following her death, unprecedented protests erupted, ultimately leading to the nationwide "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement.

The first student protest in Iran took place on September 18, 2022, at the University of Tehran. The following day, on September 19, one of the largest student protests occurred at the Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic), with reports indicating that over a thousand students participated in the protest.

The Islamic Republic regime's fear of widespread protests reached a level where the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology ordered all universities in Iran to hold the first week of classes in September 2022 virtually. The unprecedented crackdown on Iranian universities intensified in the weeks following the reopening of classes. In one of the darkest academic crimes, security forces and plainclothes agents entered Sharif University of Technology on Sunday, October 2, 2022, and fired airguns and paintball guns at the students. This act is known among Iranian students as "Sharif's Black Sunday."

Statistics of student demonstrations

According to reports leaked from the Iranian Security Center of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology to the Amirkabir Newsletter, a total of 570 demonstrations took place across all universities in Iran during the fall of 2022. Of these, 539 demonstrations (95%) were at public universities and 31 (5%) were at private universities. In the Tehran Province, where Iran's capital is located, 215 student gatherings (38% of the total) were held in the fall of 2022, making it the highest number of student protests and gatherings. Following Tehran, universities in East Azerbaijan Province and Semnan Province each held 29 gatherings (5% of the total), the highest numbers among universities in different provinces of Iran.

In terms of the highest number of university demonstrations, AllamehTabataba'i University had the most with 28 demonstrations, followed by Shahid Beheshti University with 26 demonstrations, and both the University of Tehran and K. N. Toosi University of Technology with 20 demonstrations each, marking the highest numbers among universities in Iran.

During the fall 2022 protests, the last week of September 2022 was the calmest, with 3 student demonstrations, while the last week of October 2022 was the most tumultuous, with 117 student demonstrations.

Number of participants in student demonstrations

According to leaked statistics from the Security Center of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology of Iran, the total number of participants in all demonstrations during the fall of 2022 exceeded 70,141 students. Among these, 67,199 students (96%) were from public universities, and 2,265 students (4%) were from private universities. Additionally, students from universities in the Tehran Province had the highest participation, with 24,890 students (38%).

Historical Gathering in Amirkabir University of Technology - 19 Sep 2022

Number of students arrested and detained in Iran

From September 2022 to the end of March 2024, more than 804 students were arrested and detained, consisting of 598 male students and 206 female students. Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic) and AllamehTabataba'i University each had 115 detained students, making them the universities with the highest number of detained students. It is noteworthy that Amirkabir University of Technology is known as the beating heart of the Iranian student movement, and AllamehTabataba'i University, active in the humanities, is home to the Allameh faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity.

Number of students repressed in Iran

From November 2022 to January 2023, with the cooperation of organisations, including the FARAJA Intelligence Organization, Tehran Province Intelligence Organization, IRGC Intelligence Organization, Basij Student Organization, Basij Professors Organization, Security Center of the Ministry of Science, General Security Director of Iranian Universities, Intelligence Deputy of the Sarallah Headquarters of the IRGC, and the Command Office of the Sarallah Headquarters of the IRGC, over 3,789 students were repressed in various ways.

Such as:

  • Being summoned to disciplinary committees.
  • Receiving disciplinary sentences.
  • Being banned from entering universities.
  • Being denied welfare services.
  • Being denied student meals.
  • Being suspended from studies.
  • Being expelled from universities.

According to documents published for the first time by the Amirkabir Newsletter in the fall of 2023, over 2,843 students were referred to university disciplinary committees at the peak of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement protests. Among the universities, Iran University of Science and Technology had the highest number with 324 students, followed by Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman with 282 students, and Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic) with 157 students. Additionally, over 643 students were banned from entering Iranian universities during this period, with Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic) having the highest number at 119 students, followed by AllamehTabataba'i University with 118 students, and Sharif University of Technology with 90 students.

At least 281 students were suspended during the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement protests in Fall 2022, with the University of Tehran having the highest number at 88 students, followed by Malayer University with 47 students, and Yasuj University with 32 students. Furthermore, exit bans were issued for at least 22 protesting students from Mazandaran University during the Mahsa Revolution in the fall of 2022, preventing them from legally leaving Iran.

Number of repressed professors in Iran

More than 58 professors at Iranian universities have been repressed in various ways, including suspension, expulsion, and arrest. The highest numbers are from Islamic Azad University, with 13 professors; the University of Tehran, with 8 professors; and Shahid Beheshti University, with 7 professors.

Student statements

Over 300 different statements have been issued by student groups in Iran during the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement. Approximately 83% of these statements were written by protesting students, while only 17% were issued by regime-affiliated and revolutionary organizations. More than 250 statements focused on boycotting classes and exams, over 200 condemned the repression and violence against women, over 200 condemned the killing of Mahsa Amini, over 150 criticized or opposed mandatory hijab, and more than 150 protested the detention of students.

Oppressive institutions

More than 116 security offices in Iranian universities, in collaboration with disciplinary committees and physical security units, have been responsible for identifying and dealing with protesting students within university environments and referring them to the Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC Intelligence Organization outside the university.

Various methods of oppression have been pursued in Iranian universities over the past two years. These methods include suspension, expulsion, arrest, and imprisonment of students, all implemented by security agencies. Despite this, student movements and protests have continued in various forms during the post-oppression era. Analysis shows that the level of oppression during the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement has reached its highest compared to the protests over the 2009 presidential election fraud and the nationwide student protests at Tehran University in 1999. Oppressive institutions have used every means possible to intensify the crackdown.

For over four decades since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iranian security agencies have engaged in widespread oppression of students and dissemination of misinformation to prevent international communities from becoming aware of the human rights atrocities in Iranian universities. They consider any collection and documentation of narratives and reports on security repression as actions against national security and propaganda spread against the Islamic Republic. Additionally, any cooperation with student human rights organisations is categorised as collaboration with hostile governments and intelligence agencies. This mechanism has been employed by the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic and the IRGC Intelligence Organization to intimidate Iranian student leaders and prevent the documentation and revelation of the realities occurring in Iranian universities.

Despite these threats, Amirkabir Newsletter, with over 25 years of activity as the oldest news and analysis platform of the Iranian student movement, has strived to publish facts and realities in collaboration with international student and human rights organisations, even as lives have been threatened.

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The Communication team curates Global Student Forums' digital content and prepares publications. It is a small, dedicated team from around the world.