Iranian Student Protests of July, 1999 (Also known as 18th of Tir and Kuye Daneshgah Disaster (Persian: فاجعه کوی دانشگاه) in Iran) (7–13 July) were, before the 2009 Iranian election protests, the most widespread and violent public protests to occur inIran since the early years of the Iranian Revolution.
The protests began on 8 July with peaceful demonstrations in Tehran against the closure of the reformist newspaper, Salam. Following the demonstrations, a student dormitory was raided by riot police that night during which a student was killed. The raid sparked six days of demonstrations and rioting throughout the country, during which at least three other people were killed and more than 200 injured.
In the aftermath of these incidents, more than seventy students disappeared. In addition to an estimated 1,200–1,400 detainees, the “whereabouts and condition” of five students named by Human Rights Watch who are believed to be detained by Islamic authorities remain unknown.
The evening of the protests “about 400 plainclothes paramilitaries descended on a university dormitory, whispering into short-wave radios and wielding green sticks.” The paramilitaries, thought to be Ansar-e-Hezbollah and possibly Basij began attacking students, kicking down doors and smashing through halls, grabbing female students by the hair and setting fire to rooms. Several students were thrown off of third story balconies “onto pavement below, their bones crushed,” and one student paralyzed. According to students’ accounts, uniformed police stood by and did nothing. “Witnesses reported that at least one student was killed, 300 wounded, and thousands detained in the days that followed.”The protests began on the eve of 9 July 1999 after a peaceful demonstration by a group of students of Tehran University against the closure of the reformist newspaper, Salam, by the press court. Salam newspaper (Persian: روزنامه سلام) was operated by the Association of Combatant Clerics, the reformist political party to which the then President,Mohammad Khatami belonged. The student groups, which at the time were considered one of the major supporters of Khatami and his reform programs, were protesting in support of Khatami against the closure of the newspaper by the judiciary, which was controlled by the hardline opponents of President Khatami.
The next day unrest began in earnest, spreading through Tehran and to other cities and continuing for almost a week, with unemployed youths joining the students. Basijis are reported to have disguised themselves as students (wearing jeans, T-shirts, and shaving their faces) and thrown bricks into shop windows to discredit the student demonstrators. The five days of rioting “turned Tehran into a battlefield,” and was “inarguably the worst mass disturbance” the Islamic Republican system had seen in its 20-years of existence. Running street battles left downtown Tehran “gutted,” with burned-out buses, and smashed storefronts.
There were many arrests and injuries, and at least one confirmed fatal shooting, namely that of Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad. The death of Ebrahim-Nejad was the only one acknowledged by the state-controlled Iranian television, however, major student groups and the foreign media have claimed more than 17 dead during the week of violent protests. Another student Saeed Zeinali has been disappeared after his arrest by security forces.
Major Iranian cities such as Tabriz, Mashhad, Shiraz and Esfahan were scenes of violent and widespread demonstrations as well. The protests continued at Tabriz University on 11 July 1999 (20th of Tir) and police and hardliners responded similarly in Tabriz universities and schools, entering the universities and brutally attacked students. Four students died in the unrest and many were beaten while in custody.
According to the Economist magazine, the demonstrations “took a more violent turn on 13 July, when some of the students, deeply dissatisfied with the official response, tried to storm the Ministry of the Interior, the perceived seat of their troubles.” On July 13 President Khatami issued a statement “disowning” the demonstrators, stating that continued defiance of the ban on demonstrations was “an attack on the foundations of the régime.”
The next day, 14 July, “Tens of thousands of supporters” of Supreme Leader Khamenei rallied in Tehran in a demonstration called by the Organization for Islamic Propagation (Keesing’s July 1999). “Reports characterize the demonstration as the régime’s counterattack, claiming that the demonstrators include tens of thousands government employees who have been brought to Tehran by bus.”
Student Protest: July 1999
The Iranian student protest that took place on July 1999, demonstrate the struggle for basic freedoms during Iran’s path toward democratization. The underlying cause of the protest was the desire to possess freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association with society.
Election of 1997
The presidential election of Mohammad Khatami on 23 May 1997 is symbolic of Iran’s desire for reform. The elections resulted in higher voter turnout as a result of Khatami’s liberalist views that attracted large number of youth and women specifically. In fact, “Iran’s youth…reportedly made up a large part of the 20 million who gave Khatami his victory. They were joined by large numbers of women.” The election of Khatami brought hope of economic, political and societal reform to Iranian citizens. One of the ways that Khatami appealed to woman what by stating his belief that, “women should be active in all social, political and economic activities, and said he would welcome qualified women in his cabinet if he should win the presidency. Efforts should be made to do away with male supremacy”. By holding such liberal ideas, Khatami sets himself up for battle against conservative ideology within the judicial sector of the government. In addition, “the Islamic Republic in 1997 was still an oligarchy, controlled by a network of Shi’ite clerics who were disciples of Ayatollah Khomeini” and loyal followers of Islam. Therefore, the liberalistic views of Khatami did not coincide with those of the clerics. Still, it seems as if Khatami strategically attracts votes from youth and women through his liberalistic views. In fact he “distanced himself from the faltering and unpopular campaign to ‘Islamize’ the universities, a goal of the conservative faction”. This quote indicates that Khatami noticed the dissatisfaction with the conservative’s agenda and consequently used this to his advantage. As a result the election of Khatami publicizes the Iranian citizens need for reform, especially in regards to freedoms of the press.
Government and the Press
The control of the press that the Iranian government had was a result of the “dysfunctional dualism of political and ideological institutions”. The struggle between conservative and moderate reform administration resulted in restriction the press. During this time period, Iran experienced an apparent struggle of power between reformist president Muhammad Khatami and the conservative leader of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In efforts to decrease support for the president’s liberalization agenda, the judiciary closed down newspapers that expressed reformative views. The judiciary justified the closure of several publications on the basis of “factional issues …The hardline judiciary close[d] reformist publications, while hardline ones that commit[ed] similar violations [were] rarely punished”. The judiciary used press policies as a tool to promote conservative views. The judiciary was able to do this because press policies were vague and used to their benefit. Consequently, on 7 July 1999 the Salam daily was closed. The basis of the closure was because of a report revealing plans by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to restrict the press. The editor of the newspaper faced “charges of spreading fabrications, disturbing public opinion, and publishing classified documents”. The judicial sector of the Iranian government had clear objectives to eradicate the spread of reformative views by closing down publications that spread truth to the public however the judiciary distorted the information to enable their control of the press. The press in Iran, within the boundaries of the established order which consist of the president and the clerics has reflected throughout history intergovernmental debates. These debates are dictated by the structure of governance in the Islamic Republic and who holds power. The press under the Islamic Republic in Iran has never been free. The basis of the Islamic Republic ipso facto was established upon the forceful closure of nearly all the existing free press, in the mid-summer of 1980. The only period that the press was free was from February through July 1980. In addition, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the many publications have been connected ideologically to the political sectors that exist in the regime. Still publications that are considered to be pro-reform have been endured consequences of closure. Although liberal publications face opposition by law, “they have remained resilient beneath the political undercurrents of the society, as the advocates of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, etc”. Nevertheless liberal independent publications were under the risk of extinction due to the marginalization inflicted by the Islamic Republic in Iran.
Press and the July 1999 Protest
In Iran, there has been a history of ideological and governmental conflicts that are revealed in the sphere of politics. Since the election of Khatami this issue where belief and government come into contact has become more and more apparent. The internal struggle and basic factional disputes within the state is reflected by the management of the press in general and the control of those publications that spoke on behalf of the controlled sects within the government.
The student protest of July 1999 occurred as a result of these restrictions of freedom of the press. Prior to the protest, the publisher of the Daily Saleem was “arrested, put on trial, and convicted for printing” false information. In the Daily Saleem, communication between Saeed Emami, former Deputy Minister of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic to his boss, Intelligence Ministry Chief Qorban-Ali Dorri-Najafabadi was revealed to the public. The Daily Saleem published information about governmental plans to further restrict and control freedom of the press.
In response to the closure of the newspaper, hundreds of students from Tehran University participated in a demonstration on 8 July. This demonstration has been deemed to be peaceful. The day following the demonstration, security force this included police and the Ansar-e-Hezbollah invaded student dormitories and resulted in injuries, arrest and extensive damages to the student dormitories. Following the invasion of student dormitories, intense pro-democracy demonstrations took place on 12 and 13 July. In response to the pro-democratic protest, Ali Khamenei and his conservative supporters organized a counter-demonstration rally which occurred on 14 July. Consequently, it is estimated that over 1500 student protesters were arrested. Some scholars recognize the regimes “overreaction to both its own reform counterparts and the opposition forces reveal[s], how weak and insecure the ruling conservatives are”. The reasoning behind this idea is that if the government was confident in it laws and policies, it would not demonstrate fear. In the Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis, Cyrus Bina indicates that fear is demonstrated when: “two dozen high-ranking Pasdar commanders President Khatarni an official letter of ultimatum, telling him that they have no choice except to seize power if he fails to crush the student rebellion soon…commanders, who are under direct authority of Khamenei, threatened the President that their patience is running thin and that they can no longer stand on the sideline”. The fact that the clerics and judicial sector felt the urgency to immediately stop the student’s protests is an indication of the fear they had and the amount of influence the protestors could have on Iranian society if their voices were not silenced. Therefore, it is clear that the initial student protest was prompted by the closure of the daily Saleem which occurred on 7 July. The protesters expressed strong objection to the restriction of freedom of the press by the judicial sector. The protest reflects the collective resentment of the public against the suppression of the press and restriction of basic freedoms and universal rights.
Student demands during protest
The end results that the students were expecting from the protest are reflected in the slogans that they chanted during the protest. After researching the popular slogans used during the protest, it is evident that the student had multitude of demands as a result of the six-day demonstrations in Tehran. Still, it is important that the slogans are analyzed in relation the objective of the overall protest. From all the slogans used throughout the protest there is one common theme that ties all of them together, opposition to Ali Khamenei, the “Supreme Leader” as referenced in the slogans, his Ansar-e Hezbollah, and the state-supported terrorism. In nearly one-third of the slogans used during the protest in 1999, students demonstrated opposition to Khamenei directly. For example the slogan “Khamenei! Shame on You, Leadership Is Not for You” is one a very daring statement and is considered one of the “boldest yet to be found in any demonstration in the last decade in Iran”. These straight forward criticisms toward Khamenei, combined with slogans against the cleric rule and the “20-year” repression under the Islamic order, reflect the failed velayat-e faghih as a model of government in Iran.
In addition students involved in the protest revealed resentment toward the Ansar-e Hezbollah. This resentment deriving from violent intervention, disruption of political meetings, peaceful demonstrations and university lectures in support of the cleric and the supreme leader. According to Cyrus Bina, these type of “pressure groups are kept on the government’s payroll and that their violence is often coordinated with the uniformed law enforcement forces against the public”. Consequently it is evident that during this time period conservatives constantly made efforts against liberals even through infliction of violence. The Iranian student demonstrations of July 1999 reveal the desperate need for reform. From research it is evident that the protest against the closure of the Daily Saleem resulted in a 6 day protest. That was motivated by a limited group. The demonstrations of July 1999 engaged students in politics, protesting against government corruption, political repression, the clerical rule and Khamenei. In the bigger picture, the students were protesting against the system of the Islamic Republic in Iran. In the end the protest was an act upon their needs for reform that was fueled during the election on May 23, 1997 in Iran.
A crackdown on reformists and reform policies followed the riots.
- A “long-negotiated compromise” that would have weakened the Council of Guardians to screening candidates for parliament and president was vetoed, giving the guardians “absolute vetting power”.
- A “thought crime” law was passed prohibiting “any violent or peaceful act by a person or group against the regime” including speech, and punishing such criticism with stiff sentences.
- Another law prohibited “any contact or exchange of information, interviews or collusion with foreign embassies, organization, parties or media at whatever level which could be judged harmful to Iran’s independence, national unity or the interests of the Islamic republic.”
As of 31 July 2006, several students involved in the demonstration such as Manouchehr Mohammadi, Ahmad Batebi, Farokh Shafiei, Hassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir, were still in jail. Of those students, Akbar Mohammadi died during a hunger strike while protesting against his prison sentence; Human Rights Watch called his death “suspicious” and demanded an investigation. Heshmat Tabarzadi, viewed by the Iranian government as one of the leaders of the protests, was arrested and spent nine years in Evin Prison, including two in solitary confinement.
2009 anniversary protests
July 9, 2009 protest march inTehran.
On 9 July 2009, “18 Tir” anniversary protests were scheduled for many cities in Iran and other cities worldwide. Time reported that thousands marched through the central districts of Tehran to commemorate the July 1999 student protests, and to protest the June 2009 presidential election.
Early on during the protest, Amnesty International reported: “At least 200 demonstrators are reported to have gathered along Enghlab Avenue, around the gates of Tehran University, only to be confronted by a large presence of anti-riot police and plain-clothed security officials, possibly including members of the notorious Basij militia, who used baton charges and tear gas to disperse them.”
After dark clashes continued, and rubbish was set ablaze.
“The demonstrators made a moral point. They told the government in no uncertain terms they are still there and not going away,” said an Iranian analyst who witnessed the mayhem.
The Australian reported: “The millions of Iranians who no longer dare to demonstrate have not gone away either. They are channelling their anger into a campaign of civil disobedience. Apart from shouting ‘God is great’ from their rooftops every night, they have started writing Mr Mousavi’s name on banknotes,boycotting government banks and goods advertised on state television and turning on all their electrical appliances at the same time to try to overload the electricity grid.”
References and notes
- Six days that shook Iran BBC News 11 July 2000
- Ebadi, Shirin, Iran Awakening, by Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni, Random House New York, 2006, p. 149
- “New Arrests and “Disappearances” of Iranian Students”. Human Rights Watch. 1 February 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
- The armed forces, (including the police force), in Iran, is not controlled by the president or his cabinet, but by the hardline faction of the Iranian political establishment, (SeePolitics of Iran).
- Ebadi, Iran Awakening, (2006), p. 149
- Molavi, Afshin, The Soul of Iran, Norton, 2005, p. 202
- Ebadi, Iran Awakening, (2006), p. 149
- Molavi, The Soul of Iran, (2005), p. 203
- quoting the Economist 17 July 1999
- quoting Keesings July 1999 and AFP 13 July 1999)
- quoting The Iran Brief 8 September 1999; JIRA November 1999
- Wright, Robin, The Last Great Revolution, c2000, pp. 268–72
- Robert Tait (1 August 2006). “Outcry after dissident dies in Iranian jail”. The Guardian. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
- “Iran: Imprisoned Dissident Dies in Custody; Investigate Mohammadi’s Suspicious Death” Human Rights Watch 3 August 2006
- “Dissident Iran Rises”. The Wall Street Journal. 30 December 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
- Iran Protest Schedule (Worldwide). YekIran.com. Below the map pick July 2009, and then click on the arrows and/or scroll within the agenda tab to get to July 9, 2009 to see the full list of cities holding events that day.
- Jason Rezian (5 July 2009). “The significance of 18 Tir”. Tehran Bureau. Retrieved 9 July 2009.
- David S. Morgan (8 July 2009). “Widespread Protests Anticipated in Iran”. CBS News. Retrieved 9 July 2009.
- “On Scene: Tehran’s Protests Surge — and the Basij Respond”. Time. 9 July 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2009.
- “Amnesty International Charges That Iran Used Tear Gas Against Demonstrators Marking 18 Tir Anniversary.” (Press release). Amnesty International. 9 July 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2009.
- “Britain offers N-deal as Tehran burns”. The Australian. 11 July 2009.