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Hijabs Are Just A Pretext: The Real Target Of Iran's Crackdown Are Students

The Iranian regime's repression of students and universities has reached one of its highest point in the post-revolution era, as authorities are determined to nip any unrest in the bud, and push on with plans to make society even more repressively Islamist.

A girl walks past a large mural depicting a man holding a flag

A girl walks in downtown Tehran past a large mural without her mandatory headscarf on April 8, 2023

Firoozeh Nordstrom


LONDON — An editor of the Amir Kabir newsletter, run by students of Tehran's prestigious Amir Kabir University (formerly the Tehran Polytechnic), has told Kayhan-London that "louts" working with the Iranian government's morality patrols were intensifying their "guidance" activities in top universities including Amir Kabir, Tehran University, the Sanaati Sharif (Sharif Industrial) and Elm va Sanaat (Science and Industry) universities.

These churn out Iran's top graduates, especially in technical courses, though many are inclined to emigrate at the first opportunity. Moralizing on campus means, in plain terms, state agents entering university premises to admonish but also harass, humiliate, detain and, if need be, beat students over issues of social distancing, segregation, headscarves and personal appearances.

This is part of the Islamic Republic's intensified morality drive following the repression of mass protests in late 2022 , sparked precisely by the roughshod methods of its earlier public morality drive.

The student activist, who is not being named, said that in the past year universities had hardened their clampdown on dress code violations and placed security cameras on campuses to check on students. Male and female students were intermittently blocked from either entering or leaving campuses, depending on the time of the day checks were carried out, or had student ID cards confiscated. Besides the headscarf, violations of dress norms include boys with piercings and girls wearing too short an overall (called the Islamic manteau ) or spotted smoking.

An atmosphere of intimidation

The student stated that pressures in universities had become particularly fierce this year, on the anniversary of the 2022 police killing of Mahsa Amini, and were unprecedented since the mass demonstrations of 1999 and 2009 .

Since the new autumn term began, he said, authorities were having a field day with girls and headscarves. Checks are undertaken by plainclothes agents, policewomen or even unidentified students working with the Basij militia, the parallel police force run by the Revolutionary guards. The student collaborators or 'infiltrators' take pictures, often furtively, of girl students disrespecting dress norms, for subsequent use as evidence in disciplinary hearings.

The student told Kayhan-London these agents were effectively acting as intimidators of the entire student corps. There have been instances of physical violence, notably at Khajeh Nasireddin Tusi university in Tehran, where the head of the morals and security office ( herasa t) beat a girl student on the first day of term. "Security bodies are saying that in the new phase, they have no red lines when it comes to (checking on) dress codes," he said.

In the case of Amir Kabir and Tehran universities, the state had further created a security cordon around their campuses, with street controls and closures of tea houses and leisure venues nearby to prevent extra-curricular gatherings. The student said authorities realized universities "were centers of unrest" and had better function "in a state of isolation, like graveyards, to prevent any unrest inside from spreading outside."

The authorities want to "humiliate" universities after the 2022 protests.

He said checks had also become extremely strict in dormitories, for those who slept on campus, and girls there could face disciplinary action if spotted in an unsuitable situation on the streets of Tehran. The student attributed these expanded checks to the streets around Tehran and Amir Kabir universities to a new team of morality agents called "ambassadors of guidance."

A fully covered woman walks in a dark alleyway as a man on a motorcycle is seen in the distance

An Iranian veiled woman walks at Shapour district in southern Tehran, Iran, on January 29, 2023

Rouzbeh Fouladi / ZUMA

Expelling students

In certain cases students also face suspension or expulsion from the university. Recently in Qom, in central Iran, a group of medical students were suspended for several terms after being caught attending a mixed-sex house party.

Universities are already moving toward full gender segregation, even if authorities do not put it that way. The Amir Kabir student compared the new university environment to the puritanical and, for many Iranians, frightening 1980s, or the first decade after the 1979 revolution .

As another activist and Tehran University graduate, Mojtaba Hashemi, recently told the Voice of America, the authorities want to "humiliate" universities after the 2022 protests, and "eliminate the university identity" overall, which has led to the current purge of academics .

The hijab issue is itself a handy pretext for expelling troublesome students inclined to activism , and just the threat of expulsion and of losing a coveted place at a top university, and a range of life prospects later on, is likely sufficient to cow a good many students into submission. But pressures can also provoke unrest , as they have in the past. Students at one university, the Tarbiat-e Modarres (Teacher Training) university, refused to attend classes on November 13 and 14 , in response to the "martial law" environment created on campus.

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Violence Against Women, The Patriarchy And Responsibility Of The Good Men Too

The femicide of Giulia Cecchettin has shaken Italy, and beyond. Argentine journalist Ignacio Pereyra looks at what lies behind femicides and why all men must take more responsibility.

A protester's sign referring to the alleged killer reads: Filippo isn't a monster, he's the healthy son of the patriarchy

Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press
Ignacio Pereyra

Updated Dec. 3, 2023 at 10:40 p.m.


ATHENS — Are you going to write about what happened in Italy?, Irene, my partner, asks me. I have no idea what she's talking about. She tells me: a case of femicide has shaken the country and has been causing a stir for two weeks.

As if the fact in itself were not enough, I ask what is different about this murder compared to the other 105 women murdered this year in Italy (or those that happen every day around the world).

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here .

We are talking about a country where the expression "fai l'uomo" (be a man) abounds, with a society so prone to drama and tragedy and so fond of crime stories as few others, where the expression "crime of passion" is still mistakenly overused.

In this context, the sister of the victim reacted in an unexpected way for a country where femicide is not a crime recognized in the penal code, contrary to what happens, for example, in almost all of Latin America.

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