World leaders express concern over university crackdown

The government’s attacks on protesting students at one of Iran’s top engineering and technology institutions in the capital Tehran last weekend has drawn condemnation from several foreign leaders.

Iranian security forces laid siege to Sharif University of Technology on Sunday 2 October, surrounding the university where around 200 students had gathered for a sit-down protest. Students who tried to leave the building through an underground parking area were beaten and more than 40 were arrested on that day and the next.

The university’s student union said plain clothes security officials also beat up a professor and several university staff.

Iranian state media described “reports of clashes” at the university, and video footage of the events at Sharif University and activities at other universities around the country have spurred international condemnation.

“Hard to bear what is happening at Sharif University in Iran,” Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock tweeted on Monday 3 October in a rare reference to a specific incident at a university. “The courage of the Iranians is incredible. And the regime’s brute force is an expression of sheer fear of the power of education and freedom,” she said.

United States President Joe Biden issued a statement on Monday saying he was “gravely concerned about reports of the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Iran, including students and women, who are demanding their equal rights and basic human dignity”.

Breaking weeks of silence, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded publicly on Tuesday to condemn what he called “rioting”.

Khamenei said he was “heartbroken” by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police, following her arrest for wearing her headscarf too loosely – the chain of events which set off the nationwide protests.

However, he condemned the protests as a foreign plot to destabilise Iran – a common and often unproven response by the government to unrest in the country. Khamenei described the actions of protesters removing headscarves and setting fire to mosques, banks and police cars as “not normal” and “unnatural”.

On Sunday, Parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf warned that protests could destabilise the country and urged security forces to deal harshly with those who he claimed endangered public order.

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