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The spark
... that ignited nation-wide student protests

July 12, 1999
The Iranian

An eyewitness account of the scene of an incident that sparked nation-wide protests at universities. On Thursday July 8 the security forces backed by hardline thugs clashed with student protesters at Tehran University's dorms in Amirabad. The students were protesting against the closure of the moderate Salam newspaper when they were attacked. Scores of students were injured and hundreds were arrested. The unconfirmed death toll is at least three. (See photo index)

If you closed your eyes, or just focused on the vast green space, it seemed like a typical summer day at the dorms. I will try only to tell you what I heard and saw post facto. I was not there when the storm took place, and all I can do is tell you what I heard from the students. The pictures should give you a better idea of what happened.

I arrived at the student dorms early Friday afternoon, the day after the clashes. The students were no longer holding a vigil, and the security forces had gone. At the gate they asked me for an indetification card. Fortunately, they accepted my driver's license, which the guard held on to until I returned.

The attack began at the dorms closest to the main gate. Some students ran to a set of dorms further inside the compound, and they were pursued. The worst damage was to the inner dorms -- dorm 20, particularly. Room 40 in that building was completely burned. I mean BURNED! It was a horrific site.

In the corridors, my eyes felt irritated. Tear gas! Most rooms were trashed. Windows broken, doors kicked in. There were signs of fire in the corridors -- the size that one would expect for the purpose of fighting off tear gas. Around the campus there was plenty of broken glass.

I was escorted by a few students who showed me around. They wanted me to document the "scene of crime" as much as possible and to publish the pictures for the world to see.

The students said they were beaten up by the Ansar-e Hizbollah and the security forces who acted in concert. I spoke to a few of those who were bandaged up. Some alleged that they were hit directly by the security forces. One of the students showed his bruised back as a sign of proof.

I asked a student about the protesters and why they were attacked. "Well," he said, "one of the slogans that the students were screaming says it all. The said: 'Ansaar jenaayat mikonad, rahbar hemaayat mikonad!'" (The Ansar commits crimes and the Leader, i.e. Ayatollah Khamenei, protects them). Another slogan was "Khamenei hayaa kon, een mellat-o rahaa kon" (Khamenei show some dignity and leave the people alone).

Wow! Could it be that such slogans are chanted in universities now? Apparently so. At the very least, the student talking to me was saying it out loud as others passed by. He did not seem the least worried. I heard similar testimonies from reliable sources who had passed by in the morning.

I asked a few what they thought Interior Minister Musavi Lari would do. "Ha! Nothing!" I was told. "He could not make the security forces stop hurling stones at him when he came here. You expect him to protect us? Khatami with 20 million people behind him could not do anything!"

"After this, we have no fear," one student said. "As a few of the boys said, this incident woke us up. We had forgotten what it means to be a student."

A few other statements by various students got to me. For example this one, that the students must have repeated ten times in my presence: "After the incident, I went over to the foreign students' dorms to see how they were. A Bosnian student told me that at least the Serbs gave Bosnians a chance to take up arms. The Ansar did not give you even that."

I inspected the foreign students' dorms too. The damage was not nearly as bad. Their computer room was trashed. But most doors were intact and the inside of their rooms were still orderly and inhabitable - nothing like what had happened at the Iranian students' dorms.

Still, the foreign students reported being attacked too, and were obviously shaken up. I talked to a student from Tanzania who would not say much. But a student from India insisted that I come and document the damage to his room.

When I entered, I saw a perfectly normal setting. "So where is the damage?" I asked. He dug under his bed, pulled out a small plastic bag and poured the contents on the floor: a small radio-cassette player that was slightly damaged.

It didn't seem like a big deal but the Indian student was upset enough to claim he was going to go back home. "They call themselves Ansar Hizbollah (Followers of the Party of God), but they are Ansar Hizbolsheytan (Followers of the Party of Satan)!" he insisted. See photo index

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