On May 13, 2019, pro-government activists reportedly clashed with students peacefully protesting the requirement that women wear a hijab on the campus of the University of Tehran.
Students reportedly gathered on campus in front of the Faculty of Fine Arts, where they held posters and chanted slogans denouncing the hijab requirement, and calling for broader reforms. Student protesters alleged that authorities had entered the university to warn students against failing to wear hijabs, as part of a so-called “Hijab and Chastity” program. A group of pro-government activists reportedly confronted the student protesters shouting slogans including “students may die, but we will not tolerate indignity.” The student protesters then marched into the university auditorium, followed by the pro-government activists. One pro-government activist reportedly punched a student protester, and a physical altercation between some students and activists ensued. Students and reports allege the pro-government activists are members of Basij, a paramilitary group associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, while state news and government officials allege they are also students.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence against students in apparent retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. While students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have an obligation to exercise these rights nonviolently and responsibly. Additionally, university and state authorities have a responsibility to protect the peaceful exercise of such rights and to investigate and hold responsible perpetrators of such attacks. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent attacks intended to retaliate against student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.