Revolution#135, July 13, 2008

From A World to Win News Service

Zanjan University:

Woman Defies Iran's Islamic Regime - 1000s Protest

June 30, 2008. A World to Win News Service. Events at Iran’s Zanjan University two weeks ago shocked the whole country. Not because people were unaware of the kind of corruption and the abuses going on behind the Islamic codes imposed by the regime, but because this incident concentrated the Islamic Republic’s essence. The subsequent developments were also shocking and beyond what the people of Iran, who are well familiar with the logic of the Islamic regime, could believe.

A woman student was brave enough to go up against all the threats of the so-called disciplinary committee and university authorities. She refused to give in to their demands and instead helped gather evidence to prove the corruption and abusive action of university vice-chancellor Hassan Madadi. An audio recording of his demanding sex from her was circulated. Tens of thousands of people saw the mobile phone video posted on YouTube showing students seizing him, turning him over to the authorities and demanding that he be charged. ( People informed each other by SMS and phone. Again not because people were surprised—many are aware of the dimension of this sort of corruption in this regime—but because they were glad to see that this time this criminal was caught red-handed and he and the government could not get away with it.

This news outraged students and 3,000 took part in protests. A flood of solidarity and support came from other university students. The university authorities, who were in a weak position, tried to end these demonstrations by giving false promises to meet the students’ demand. Finally, members of the student Islamic Association associated with “reformers” such as ex-president Muhammad Khatami were determined to use these events to their advantage in their factional fight within the state, compromised to keep the student movement from getting out of their hands and to advance their own factional programme within the government.

But what shocked the people even more came later after the demonstrations ended, as Science and Higher Educational Minister Ali Zahedi claimed that the video didn’t prove anything, and the Zanjan prosecutor announced that exposing a “sin” is worse than the sin itself. Hardly anyone could miss what they were up to. It did not take long before the woman student who dared expose this abusive official was herself arrested and accused of having an unlawful affair!

Islamic law requires two adult men witnesses to testify against such abuses—a requirement so impractical that such abuses can never be proved. Islamic logic is clear: women are guilty and they are the source of sin, so that whatever the sin, it is the woman who must be at fault. The fact that the sin occurred and she is a woman is enough evidence to arrest her. Thus the positions of criminal and victim are reversed.

This event shows that the Islamic regime is determined to go ahead with its anti-woman policies, even in the face of a scandal with such solid and undeniable evidence. It also shows that the most brutal oppression of women is a main pillar of the Islamic Republic of Iran. That is why we say that this incident, in a concentrated way, brings out the essence of the Islamic regime.

Women students, who constitute a majority in Iranian universities, are regularly subjected to harassment and threats by the disciplinary committees and the Harasat (Guardian) office of the universities. The Harasat is a unit in each university that acts as an intelligence and security apparatus, since supposedly the regular security forces aren’t allowed on campus. They regularly monitor the behavior and activities of students and even teachers on campus and in the classrooms. They have created a repressive and fascistic atmosphere in the universities and are very much hated by the students.

The irony is that while the authorities of the Science and Higher Education Ministry and the universities never tire of using all their creativity to issue all sorts of strange and highly detailed rules and regulations to control clothing and makeup and the relations between women and men students, and summon students before disciplinary committees and even expel them for violating the Islamic codes of cover or un-Islamic behavior, at the same time a wide range of university officials and authorities, and in particular Harasat officials, use their power to sexually abuse female students. These two aspects might look contradictory but the origin of both behaviors is the same: a desire to control and oppress women. The government does its best to protect these criminals not only to defend its own thugs, but most importantly because the oppression of women is a main pillar of the whole system. To take another example, this is how the armed Islamic groups in Afghanistan put pressure on women. They kidnap teenage girls and rape them for the “sin” of going to school or not implementing the Islamic code of cover.

In Iran many of these officials are newly appointed ex-members of the Pasdaran and Basij (the Islamic regime’s particular military, the Revolutionary Guards and militia). After the Iran-Iraq war they were awarded university degrees not because they went to classes but as a reward for their service in the war and to the Islamic “revolution,” or because they were members of one of the gangs that formed the Islamic Republic of Iran. All the progressive lecturers were purged during the so-called cultural revolution in the early 1980s. In the last few years, a whole new crop of academics not considered Islamic enough has been purged once again. As a result the universities have fallen into the hands of more fundamentalists and Islamic-committed officials and lecturers who have been abusing their power over students in many different ways, including demanding sex from them.

This Islamisation of the universities has put even more pressure on students and in particular increased the oppression of women students. In turn, women have increasingly taken part in various kinds of rebellious, defiant behavior and often political action against the state and state-designated officials. They have become an important component of all the student movements, despite the unfavorable conditions and restrictions and limitations on their participation.

What outraged people more than anything else about the Zanjan University incident is that such incidents are not uncommon. As the March 8 organization leaflet says [see excerpts on page 4], similar cases have come to light in other universities, such as Sahand University in Tabriz and Razi University in Kermanshah and elsewhere. What made this case different is that the students gathered undeniable proof and exposed it to the people before the regime could control the spread of the news.

But at the same time there have been numerous cases that have not been exposed. The fear of social stigma and most importantly the fear of being accused as the perpetrator of sin and charged with unlawful sexual relations have prevented victims from even talking about it to their closest friends or relatives. Shadi Sadr, an Iranian woman lawyer and activist in such cases, wrote in an article, “I have frequently come across case files describing women who have been victims of threats, sexual abuse and even rape. After making a complaint about rape, they are raped once again by a long and difficult legal process that brings them more suffering. Not only do they find themselves unable to prove the sexual abuse or the rape, but ultimately they themselves are charged and punished by the law because they are said to have confessed to sexual relations outside marriage, a fate that unfortunately might await the woman student in Zanjan.” (Amir Kabir Technical University Farsi Web newsletter, June 20)

What is unfortunate is that abuses, threats and harassment inflicted by the security forces and officials, especially in universities, have led many students to commit suicide. According to a report from the Farsi section of the Deutsche welle (Voice of Germany, June 23), the head office of the Harasat of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education said that out of 28 university student suicides since the Iranian new year began on March 21, 21 were women. The same source reports that “On April 16 this year a Ph.D. student studying Chemistry at Shahid Beheshti University committed suicide with cyanide, four days later a Hamadan student committed suicide; and the next month a female medicine student in Isfahan committed suicide two days after being detained and accused of violating the Islamic codes of cover. Another woman student earlier in the year at the university of Damghan in the northeast of country hanged herself in the dormitory. On June 11 this year a female student in Malayer, a city 200 miles west of Tehran, killed herself. The university disciplinary committee had suspended her for one term for unlawful sexual relations.” According to the same source, another woman student in the eastern province of Sistan and Balouchestan also committed suicide by taking tablets.

People’s outrage at the news from Zanjan University was still boiling when a photo began circulating showing the battered body of a student at Lahijan University in northwest Iran who threw herself from the fourth floor of the engineering faculty where the Harasat office is located. It broke the heart of millions of people who saw it posted on several Web sites, including,04,00010088. It was even more painful when a second female student in Sistan and Balouchestan University also committed suicide. And we know that they were neither the first nor the last.

But fortunately this is not what the harassed and threatened woman student at Zanjan University did. Her courageous actions were able to expose the anti-woman criminal officials and the system that backs them, and gave rise to a remarkable student movement.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond