Protestors call for solidarity with the people of Iran, demand social and democratic freedoms

Dec. 1, 2022, 1:05 a.m.

Over 50 members of the Stanford community called for students and University administration to support the Iranian people in their protests for social and democratic freedoms at a Wednesday protest led by community members affiliated with Iranian Scholars for Liberty (ISL).  

Following the death of a young woman in the custody of Iranian authorities, large-scale demonstrations have taken Iran by storm. Many Iranian women have either cut their hair off or burned their hijabs. Stanford’s protest coincided with over 200 other colleges and universities across the world holding similar demonstrations as part of ISL’s larger “Campus Rally for Iran” campaign.

Students and community members gathered at White Plaza, where organizers handed out white flowers. The crowd sang and marched to Main Quad and back. They displayed signs that read “Free prisoners of conscience in Iran,” and “Women, Life, Freedom.” As they marched, they called out “Regime change for Iran.”  

Shima A. ’17, a lead organizer for the protest and member of the Iranian Stanford Alumni Association, said the white flowers handed out at the protest were “a sign of peace.” Shima requested that The Daily not disclose her full last name out of fear of retaliation against her relatives in Iran.

“We would like to promote peace and invite people to help us to reach that peace and bring that back to our country,” Shima said.

The organizers urged the Stanford community to “raise their voice in solidarity with Iranians,” emphasizing the campus community’s heightened “platform to promote democratic values.”

ISL also laid out its list of demands, which called for boycotts against all individuals and institutions sympathetic to the Iranian regime, for universities to actively ensure that Iranian scholars are not exiled back to Iran and subject to cruelties and unequivocal diplomatic and economic separations from the Iranian regime.

The protest followed the over 75-day-long series of protests in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities, which many believe to have been caused by the country’s morality police. The morality police of Iran — who continue to claim that Amini died due to “underlying disease” — jailed her after she defied the country’s mandate that women fully cover their hair. 

Iran’s morality police, which the U.S. government has sanctioned since Amini’s death, is a branch of the regime’s law enforcement and is known to hinder freedom of expression in Iran, jailing and abusing women who wear their hijab in ways that the regime deems “appropriate.”

Ali Rahimpour, a psychiatry postdoctoral scholar who has worked with ISL, described the work being done as “a kind of collaborating between all of the Iranians and all of the students hoping for the revolution for the freedom in Iran.” 

Shortly before noon, organizers assembled by the south end of White Plaza, setting up speakers, tables, displaying signs and laying chairs out to resemble the national colors of Iran: red, white and green.

ISL also displayed infographics highlighting many facets of the humanitarian situation Iran, such as its numerous abuses of womens’ freedoms, photographs of the dozens of children killed over the course of the country’s recent protests and penalties that gay Iranians face under the country’s penal code.

Shortly after noon, Iranian studies program director Abbas Milani took the microphone, where he said that “more than 18,000 people have been arrested since the protests have started” in Iran. He described the Iranian diaspora’s widespread action as “unprecedented” in its nature as a multi-generational, women-led movement advancing “the world towards peace and equality.”

Elaborating further on U.S. action on Iran, Parnian Kaboli ’78 called on Stanford to “…at least pressure the Hoover Institute to not sabotage the efforts” of doing away with the regime in Iran. 

When asked about the University’s position on the situation within Iran, Stanford spokesperson Luisa Rapport referred to an Oct. 6 statement and list of resources in support of the Iranian people. 

“We affirm our commitment to upholding fundamental human rights and condemn police brutality. We admire the bravery of Iranians who are speaking out for freedom and dignity, and especially want to acknowledge the women who are leading these protests,” the University said. 

Shortly after Milani spoke, a call-and-response chant of “say her name” and “Mahsa Amini.” 

Chants of “Democracy for Iran,” “Freedom for Iran,” and “Human rights for Iran” were also called out. Protesters sang Iranian songs in Farsi, frequently highlighting senses of peace, freedom and democracy. 

An attendee dressed to resemble the Statue of Liberty walked onto White Plaza adorned in white robes covered in red-painted handprints. The front of their robes, written in Farsi, said “Women. Life. Freedom.” They had their hair cut off and placed in a torch they crafted as a representation of Iranian women frequently cutting off and burning their own hair and hijabs. 

“The basic essence of what we’re asking for is human rights, and it’s the first woman-led revolution of our time,” said Hasti, another protest organizer who requested that her last name be withheld due to concerns of retaliation by the regime.

Shima noted the phrase ‘Women. Life. Freedom,” is meant to make it clear that women are “the front of the people in the frontline of this revolution” and that Iranians desire the sense of “the normal life that you can see here in America or in other countries.” 

Hasti said that the Iranian women who have symbolically removed their hijab on the front lines of protests, an action which the Iranian regime heavily penalizes, highlights the Iranian diaspora “amplifying the voices of our brothers and sisters that we’re seeing in Iran.” 

“I’ve never seen this type of unity in the Iranian community. I’ve never been more proud to be Iranian. It’s amazing to see how we’re all coming together, we’re echoing the voices of the people that are being held hostage in Iran,” Hasti said. 

Shima added, “I’m glad that we older generation realize that [prior generations] made a mistake 43 years ago, and we are trying to make it up for future generation[s]… By doing this revolution, at least we can make the life of the next generation better.” 

Shima referred to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 that overthrew the secular Shah government and installed the fundamentalist Shia Islamic regime that remains today.

Hasti said the only way forward is “regime change, not reform. You can’t reform this. Anyone that says differently has questionable motives.”

Near the end of the protest, the crowd then sang the Iranian national anthem that was in use before the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Present in the crowd was someone holding the Iranian flag that was long used before the Islamic Revolution, after which its use was criminalized. 

Shima called for more action from the University and the Hoover Institution on the matter. She said the institutions “have a very huge responsibility” due to their influence on policy. 

“So far, we didn’t see much support from University directors and leaders. I wish to see louder and stronger support from them about this. I wish they had done something both for Iranian students who are far away from their families right now,” Shima said. 

“Staying silent is equivalent to supporting [the] Iran regime at this point,” Shima added. “There is no middle point. You are either with [the Iranian] people, or you are with [the] Iran regime.”

Sebastian Strawser is a writer for the News section. He enjoys Filipino food and Avatar The Last Airbender. Contact him at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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