‘Students in Iran must be able to feel as free and safe as students here’
Student Inholland takes action for Iran
Generate support for the protesters in Iran and be a voice for fellow students. This is the driving motivation of Mahsa Azadi*. As a child of Iranian parents and as a student at Inholland UAS, she is taking action together with other students at universities of applied sciences and research universities all over the world. “We will do this until students in Iran can feel just as free and safe as we do here.”
Mass demonstrations have been taking place in Iran since September, partly against the obligation to wear a headscarf and against the way the ‘morality police’ enforces observance of this rule. But people are also demonstrating against the lack of freedom of expression, the ignoring of women’s rights, the brutal killing of people during civil protests and the closing down of the internet. The protests began on 13 September when the morality police arrested a young woman. Three days later it was revealed she had died. Since then more than 470 people have been killed at the protests.
The dark aspects of the regime
In a week during which the Iranian regime, according to Amnesty, is once again threatening to execute demonstrators due to their involvement in the mass protests in the country, we talked to Mahsa. Both her parents are from Iran, while she herself was born and raised in the Netherlands. ‘When my parents got divorced, the dominant emotion in our home was fear. Fear that my father would kidnap us and take us with him to Iran, because when a child reaches the age of seven, guardianship passes fully to the father. Or when my mother wanted to legally divorce my father. That wasn’t possible, because a woman isn’t allowed to take this decision by herself. Or when as a teenager I wanted to discover the world and travel to Iran. My mother prevented me doing this because without the company of a man I wouldn’t be safe in Iran. Even while I was still a child, this last factor felt very sinister to me. I know now that these dark aspects relate to the regime. This is separate from the country itself, which has a wealth of culture and history.’
Students demanding their freedom
Mahsa is in contact not only with family members but also with students in Iran. ‘They say that studying isn’t possible for the time being. What they are focusing on is fighting for the women, for life, freedom. They are on the front line of this struggle. Despite the fear, they go onto the streets to demonstrate every day. Most women remove their headscarves when they do this, which is an absolute crime in Iran. They are paying a high price for the freedom. Media report that the regime has even poisoned students’ food to prevent them taking part in announced demonstrations.’ Despite the sorrow and suffering, Mahsa is also optimistic. ‘The people have been going out onto the streets of Iran for more than three months now, simply to demand their freedom – that is such a strong statement.’
To begin with Mahsa felt powerless, but she also felt such a bond with her fellow students that she decided to take action. ‘What’s happening there is so far from the norms and values that we know here. That’s why it’s important for us to speak out here and be the voice of our fellow students and lecturers in Iran.’
Woman, Life, Freedom
A few weeks ago Mahsa set up a group app together with fellow students with the aim of supporting students in Iran. This now hosts more than 40 students. She hopes this will generate support and also be a support for students in Iran. Moreover, Mahsa has received permission from ACTA to hang up a flag with the words Woman, Life, Freedom in the building. Items drawing attention to the situation in Iran are also spread via TV screens and a newsletter. Moreover, Mahsa has made a video in the hope that this support can reach the students in Iran. With these actions, she forms part of over 200 demonstrations at universities of applied sciences and research universities all over the world. In the meantime she has also talked to Bart Combee, Executive Board president at Inholland UAS. ‘We spoke about the situation in Iran with regard to students and discussed what Inholland can contribute here. At the moment we are exploring the possibilities.’ Bart also commented on the meeting: ‘We stand behind our students and help them where we can. As university we assign major priority to inclusivity, being able to be yourself and freely expressing your opinion. This is why we fully support actions for human rights with regard to terrible conflicts such as those in Iran or Ukraine.’
Students are the chief target
‘Now various students at various education institutions are in contact with each other’, says Mahsa. ‘So I hope our actions will continue to attract attention in the coming period because students are the chief target. Once they have been arrested they are physically and mentally mistreated and in the worst cases raped and murdered. The percentage of arrests among students makes this very clear. In any event I find it really heart-warming to experience how connected we are to each other and also to the students in Iran. Solidarity and unity are powerful weapons. As long as we remain in contact and use hashtags on social media such as #Mahsaamini and #Womanlifefreedom, and continue to share information about the situation in Iran, then we can fight the evil. People often underestimate their strength.’
To conclude, Mahsa would like to share a quote from the Iranian poet and author Hamid Mosadegh: ‘If I stand up, and you stand up, all will stand up. If I sit down, and you sit down, who would stand up?’
* We have been asked to use the fictitious name Mahsa. The name Mahsa refers to Mahsa Amini, whose death triggered the protests. Azidi means ‘freedom’ in Persian. The interviewee’s real name is known to the editorial staff.
Inholland University of Applied Sciences is an inclusive organisation and supports all students and employees who, like Mahsa, are working to promote human rights. Does this story prompt you to contact other students with regard to this issue? Then contact the Student Success Centre at your location. If you have questions and suggestions relating to diversity and inclusion, you can also contact the Community of Practice for Diversity.