On Thursday 13 October, members of the St Andrews community gathered on Lower College Lawn to hold a vigil demonstrating support for protesters in Iran.
Iran is facing increasing unrest in the aftermath of 13 September when Mahsa Amini, a 22-year old arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly not covering her hair with a hijab or headscarf, died after a reported beating with a baton by Iranian officers.
Protests began following Ms Amini’s funeral, with women removing their headscarves in a show of solidarity and support. In the aftermath of those initial demonstrations, more women are joining the protests, publicly removing their headscarves and cutting their hair. Women and schoolgirls are at the forefront of these protests with a significant number of men and teenage boys also participating.
Authorities claim Ms Amini died of a heart attack, releasing video footage of her collapsing in a police station. The Iranian government’s response to the protests includes arresting protesters and organizers, with protesters dying following authorities’ use of live ammunition, tear gas, and sound bombs.
The US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) estimates at least 233 protesters killed since 17 September when widespread demonstrations began. HRANA states that 32 of those killed are under 18. A spokesperson for the United Nations’ human rights office puts the number of children killed closer to 23. Iran Human Rights, based in Oslo, estimates the total death toll is around 201.
Inconsistent death counts are, in part, due to the Iranian government releasing no official death toll for the past several weeks.
The vigil held in St Andrews received the support of the Students’ Association, Rector and Rector’s Committee, Amnesty International St Andrews, the University itself, as well as Iranian students and staff alike.
300 individuals gathered to hear from Professor Ali Ansari of the Iranian Studies Institute and Dr Saeed Talajooy of the School of Modern Languages, in addition to other student and staff speakers.
The University expressed their support for both the protesters in Iran and the vigil in solidarity with them: “The most effective statement which St Andrews could make in support of women and protesters in Iran was made this week by our students and staff, 300 of whom gathered for a rally and vigil at Lower College Hall. St Andrews supports the right to protest peacefully, to live without fear of discrimination, and we unreservedly condemn the use of violence to suppress freedom of expression.”
They continued, “We worked closely with the Students’ Association, Amnesty International St Andrews, and some of our Iranian students and staff to plan and stage the rally, and to encourage local and national media to report the clear opposition of our community to actions of the Iranian regime.
“300 voices are far more powerful than one, and we’re grateful to everyone from the University, and the local community, who came along to show their support.”
If students are in need of support, the University included a number of resources available to those who are unaware of them, “Our Student Services Team is available to provide support and advice to anyone affected by what is happening in Iran, and our Vice-Principal (Education), Professor Clare Peddie is in contact with individual students.”
In a statement given by Kristina Kumpf, President of Amnesty International St Andrews’ she said, “The people of Iran have long been subjected to regressive and tyrannical rule by their government who “have distorted and disrupted Iranian culture and people’s lives since 1979” (Dr Saeed Talajooy, Department of Persian). We were delighted by the success of our recent vigil for Iran. As noted by our Treasurer, Shona McCallum, in her speech at the start of the demonstration, we were unsure whether this vigil would receive the same community support as our demonstration for Ukraine had a few months prior; so many protest movements and human rights atrocities in the Middle East simply don’t receive the same attention in the Western media cycle. It was so encouraging to see people show up and listen to the voices of Iranian people, in support particularly of this Middle Eastern women’s-led movement.
We want to particularly thank the students, staff, and community members who showed up in support of Iranians, particularly Iranian women, and their fight for women’s and human rights in their country. We are grateful to have had so many incredible Iranian staff and students speak, including Pasha Tehrani who hosted the event, Dr Saeed Talajooy and Professor Ali Ansari who provided such rich and moving speeches about the history of resistance in Iran over the past 43 years which have led to this moment. Ava Pourfallah delivered a beautiful anonymous speech by another female Iranian student, and Vahid Davar read a Persian poem in translation - we are so grateful for their words and voices. Likewise, we want to thank STAMSA for speaking in support of this event and highlight the efforts of the university to support this demonstration, particularly Niall Scott with whom we worked closely to facilitate a safe and successful event.
“There is still much more to be done. We at Amnesty St Andrews will be continuing to monitor what is happening and share it with our community, as the situation is continuing to evolve with unfortunately minimal Western media coverage. Over the weekend, Evin Prison, where the Iranian government imprisons many political prisoners, activists, journalists, and prisoners of conscious are held, was set ablaze with reports of tear gas being used on prisoners. We will be hosting a Write for Rights event in support of Iran on Thursday 27th October, details to be confirmed (check our social media).”.
More information on Amnesty International St Andrews and the work they do can be found both on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
Image: Lauren McAndrew