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“As we are releasing this statement, many students and academics are being assaulted, detained, abducted and held in unknown locations.”

These words — part of the same anonymously authored statement — were read at over 200 college campuses around the world on Wednesday evening. Iranian Scholars for Liberty, a diasporic group of faculty, students, staff and alumni at universities worldwide, called for their respective school communities to stand in solidarity with ongoing protests in Iran. The surge in demonstrations responds to reported human rights violations by the Iranian government. 

Yale joined the 200 schools on Wednesday, as the Persian Students and Scholars Association sponsored a rally held in the Humanities Quadrangle.

“It was heartwarming … [every] time I saw a different school [join],” said Susan Kashaf, an Associate Professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “To think that … relatively invisible people are united talking about the same thing, [there’s a] force of numbers.”

Anti-government protests in Iran have raged since the mid-September passing of Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman. Morality police arrested Amini in Tehran for allegedly not covering her hair properly; she died in police custody three days later. 

Amini’s demise sparked nationwide protests about the statewide hijab mandate for women, women’s rights generally and the overall rule of the Islamic Republic. 

“That movement has continued to grow in momentum, now becoming a referendum on the Islamic Republic’s rule more generally and a fight for human rights,” wrote Nader Granmayeh ’24, who is involved with campus organizing in support of the Iranian protestors. Granmayeh is a former staff reporter for the News. 

According to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group that has been monitoring the demonstrations, more than 450 people have been killed and more than 18,000 arrested as a result of the protests. Iran has not released arrest or casualty figures in months.

The event website for Wednesday’s rally includes a map featuring the over 200 schools involved, which are located across the United States, Costa Rica, Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Turkey and more. The schools span technical, state, public and private universities. 

At each participating school, representatives — who communicated with the Iranian Scholars for Liberty group in the weeks or days leading up to the event — delivered the primary statement above. A campus community was able to join the network by completing a Google form on the group’s website.

At Yale’s event, several speakers shared prepared speeches and specific stories of violence committed against Iranian citizens, with an invitation to all in attendance to also come forward at the end to share any other stories or details.

The speakers asked to remain anonymous to protect their privacy and safety. 

“I did not know how to tell you which stories… which ones are more painful, which ones will touch you more,” one of the speakers at the rally said. “And then I wondered: What is the cost of freedom? … How many [children] should lose their mothers. … their fathers?”

Photos of demonstrations, individual protestors and various vigils were on display across the walls of the room in which the rally was held, many of which centered on Amini’s death.

Simultaneously, a PowerPoint presentation and video featuring logos of participating campus, visuals documenting the protests and statistics, and a looped video of women tying up their hair worldwide as an act of protest were on display.

“It’s not about hijab, it’s about choice,” one of the graphics read. 

Protests held at the 200 universities were student-led events that were not necessarily school affiliated. Most universities — Yale excluded — where rallies were staged have not released statements of solidarity on an institutional basis.

University president Peter Salovey issued a statement condemning the Iranian government’s human rights violations on Nov. 9, making Yale the first Ivy League university to publicly affirm Iranian protestors. The statement came on the heels of a letter addressed to Salovey that asked the University to officially denounce state violence against Iranian civilians. The nearly 500 Yale faculty members who signed the letter highlighted attacks on academic institutions and hospitals across Iran and calls for an end to the murder, torture and imprisonment of Iranian civilians. 

Looking ahead, Anahita Rabiee, a clinical fellow at the Yale School of Medicine, added that she hopes to aid in putting more stories into the world, especially those belonging to those who don’t have the voice to tell one. 

For the organizers, the rally was more than a way of getting more people to care about and educate themselves on the issue. It was also an opportunity for coalition-building and “getting to know” more people, according to Kashaf.

What distinguished this event from previous solidarity events hosted at Yale was its simultaneous universal and individual nature, said organizers, echoing that there is a powerful element to reading the same statements, stories and histories across schools worldwide.

Rally organizers and participants emphasized that behind the individual stories and challenges shared are a universal, united desire for democratic freedom. 

“I wish a free, democratic and equal Iran for all Iranians,” a speaker at the rally attested.

Iranians of all ages, ethnicities and genders have joined in the demonstrations, but they are fueled in large part by younger generations. 

In early October, the Iranian government trapped student protestors at three universities, including Sharif University of Technology, one speaker noted. A fence and a barred locked gate separated the students from a sea of Iranian paramilitary men with guns. 

According a security source, members of Iran’s men’s national soccer team, who refused to sing the national anthem at the World Cup against England in Qatar on Nov. 21, have been confronted with threats of imprisonment, torture and death if they continue to exhibit visible support for ongoing protests. 

Other stories of violence committed by the Iranian government against its people included a man killed for honking his car horn during a protest. Still others concerned murders of children and the rapes of young women.

“Who could be that brutal, to kill a 16-year-old kid with 24 bullets?” one speaker asked, speaking of a young woman who was murdered by the government in early October. 

Granmayeh noted that the Iranian government attempted to implement a nationwide Internet black-out as the protests began to surge, trying to block videos of schoolgirls taking off their hijabs and removing pictures of the Supreme Leader from their classrooms.

But instead of giving up, Iranians across the nation continue to repeat one phrase: “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi,” or Farsi for women, life, freedom.

Update, Dec. 1: An earlier version of this story named an involved campus organizer. They have since asked to remain anonymous due to privacy and safety concerns.

ANIKA SETH
Anika Seth writes about admissions, financial aid and alumni as well as diversity, equity and inclusion at Yale. She also lays out the weekly print edition of the News as an editor of the production desk and is co-chair of Diversity & Inclusion. Anika previously covered STEM at Yale, particularly new facilities projects and investments. Originally from the D.C. Metro area, Anika is a sophomore in Branford College double majoring in biomedical engineering and women's, gender and sexuality studies.
BRIAN ZHANG
Brian Zhang covers student life for the University desk, and previously housing and homelessness for the City desk. He is a sophomore in Davenport College.