Dozens of protesters holding signs demanding freedom for Iranian students and political prisoners marked National Students Day in Iran with a solidarity rally Saturday outside Hart House at the University of Toronto.

Every year on December 7, Tehran campuses mark the 1953 killing of three students by the armed forces, just months after a US-backed coup toppled popular prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq.

Campus gatherings have since been replaced with protests on officially sanctioned holidays to show opposition to the June 12 election results that gave a “tainted” victory to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran has banned foreign media from reporting on a student rally next week, fearing a new round of protests against June’s disputed presidential election.

“All permits issued for foreign media to cover news in Tehran have been revoked from December 7 to December 9,” the Culture Ministry’s foreign press department said on Saturday in an SMS text message sent to journalists, photographers and cameramen working for foreign media in Iran, reported Reuters.

“In the past few days, Internet connections in Tehran have been either very slow or completely down,” said Reuters. “An official at Iran’s telecommunications ministry told Reuters that Internet access and cellphone lines would be disabled on Monday.”

Reuters said, “When the June 12 presidential election returned hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power by a wide margin, his reformist opponents cried foul and thousands of Iranians took to the streets in the biggest anti-government demonstrations in the 30-year history of the Islamic Republic.”

“Iran has plunged into one of its worst political crisis after the June 12 poll, which the opposition said was massively rigged to keep hardline Ahmadinejad in power,” said AFP. “At least 4,000 people were arrested for attending and instigating the protests including leading reformist figures and journalists, many of whom have been sentenced to several years in jail and some released on hefty bail.”

In Toronto, rally organizer Tayaz Fakhri told Rabble.ca that the protests have moved beyond the Iranian universities to include support rallies from students around the world.

“Freedom of speech and other human rights are being continuously invaded,” he said.

Niloofar Golkar read a statement at Saturday’s rally on behalf of all in attendance requesting the Iranian government to release all student and political prisoners.

“On November 4, when Iran marked the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the US embassy by radical students, thousands of protesters shouting “death to the dictator” clashed with security forces in central Tehran, who made more than 100 arrests,” said AFP. “Dozens of demonstrators were killed and thousands arrested in June when the regime cracked down on a wave of protests against the official election results giving Ahmadinejad victory.”

Many different groups including students, women and labourers are under pressure right now from the government in Iran to stop their movement for freedom of speech and human rights, said Golkar.

At their general national assembly in November, the 550,000 members of the Canadian Federation of Students officially endorsed Iranian students and their quest for human rights. The National Executive also sent letters to the Office of the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Iranian ambassador to Canada urging the protection of students’ rights through “proper channels.”

Amnesty International Canada also called on the Iranian authorities to release all political prisoners and imprisoned activists and respect the human rights of all Iranian citizens.

“I think it’s very tough (for students) as it has been for the last thirty years, but this is definitely a boiling point,” said Nila Zameni. “People are really fed up. Before Ahmadinejad there was Hotami and people had a lot of hope for change, especially young people.”

Zameni was in Iran during and after the June elections.

“I didn’t really leave the house,” she said. “But you often saw truckloads of police officers going down the street. My sister-in-law saw people getting hit in the face with a baton and falling to the ground like a cartoon character.”

Zameni said she was amazed at how politically active the people were in the face of repression. “They’re risking their lives at gatherings and rallies,” she said. “They’re doing it in the millions, not thousands of students.”

But it’s about more than just freedom of speech and voting rights, said Zameni, adding that “it’s up to the people to decide what kind of democracy they want.” 

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.