Community members rallied in the snow to advocate for liberty in Iran on campus yesterday.
Protests continue for a third month in Iran and across the globe after the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Amini was detained after incorrectly wearing her hijab while visiting Iran with family. Authorities claimed she passed away due to a heart attack, but witnesses' reports show that she was beaten by the police and fell into a coma.
What initially sparked an outcry for the liberation of women’s rights in Iran quickly became a broader uprising against the Islamic Regime that has been ruling the country for over 40 years.
Speakers emphasized the violent crackdown on protesters since September 16 with thousands arrested and hundreds reportedly killed, a considerable amount of those being Iranian youth and university students.
After a string of rallies organized by Iranian community members at UBC with successful turnouts, Iranian Scholars for Liberty, a non-political and independent organization run by the Iranian academic diaspora, held its rally yesterday in solidarity with protesters in Iran and jointly with more than 100 university campuses across the globe.
“The people demand women's rights, human rights, justice and democracy,” wrote Iranian Scholars for Liberty in a press release. “In unison, they seek to end the Islamic Regime’s rule over Iranian people, after four decades of widespread corruption and systemic violations of human rights by authorities with total impunity.”
The release also calls for the immediate release of political prisoners and asks academia and governments to not engage with the Iranian government.
The protest included an open mic session sharing solidarity and stories, followed by Iranian songs that have come to represent the movement and signing of colourful paper boats that were released at the UBC fountain.
The paper boats are a symbol honouring nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak, whose family said he was killed by state security forces November 16.
Attendees chanted “woman, life, freedom” while marching from the Nest to the Martha Piper Plaza fountain. Despite snow, there were around 40 community members in attendance.
One attendee noted that underneath this show of unity and hope was a definite feeling of exhaustion.
“[University students] are under so much mental pressure [and] I'm not sure how much they are understood by their supervisors or their bosses,” said Yegi, a UBC graduate student from Iran. “But I think there's still hope and when we were shouting, I think that exhaustion was transforming into anger and maybe some hope for a better future.”
“There's anger and grief, embedded deep in all of us. It doesn't matter whether it's raining, snowing or it's sunny,” Kas chimed in, who is also an Iranian graduate student. “That [grief is] unifying people to come together and be able to empathize with each other, be able to gather around a whole unit of ideas, a concept of freedom.”
Yegi and Kas’ names have been changed to protect them from potential Iranian government retribution.
After attending multiple rallies for Iran in the past few months, Kas and Yegi have observed that the same people have also been consistently attending. This show of familiarity and unity has been a source of comfort.
They noted that staying vigilant and updated on the ever-changing landscape is key and hope to raise awareness regarding the misrepresentation and misinformation plaguing Iranian media.
“[As university students], we are being trained to have critical thinking, to look for the truth,” Yegi explained. “Inside Iran, university students are one of the main leaders of these movements. So I think it's up to us to be one of the leaders outside.”
“I think us as scholars, whether you're a staff member here or whether you're a student, whether you're a faculty member, it's really important to be the voice of the people who live ordinary lives in Iran and try to lead and echo their voice,” said Kas.
“Showing any sort of leniency and compassion towards the students would go a long way.”
Resources for students needing support can be found in this statement from UBC’s Equity and Inclusion Office.