In December last year, several dozen left-wing Iranian students were arrested for organising or taking part in action on 16 Azar (7 December), Iran’s traditional “Student Day” of protest. Since then, many more activists have been arrested in a continuing crackdown, and one of the detained has now been murdered by the police of the Islamist regime.
On 6 January, 27 year old law student Ebrahim Lotfollahi was arrested in front of Payame Nur University in Sanandaj, the capital of Iranian Kurdistan, minutes after finishing an exam. Nine days later his family were informed that he committed suicide in prison, dying due to “suffocation”.
Ebrahim’s brother, Esmail, saw him two days after his arrest and reported that he was in good spirits and expecting to be released shortly. He says the idea that Ebrahim committed suicide is simply not plausible. When the authorities informed the family of his death, they added that he had already been buried; when the family visited the grave, they found that it had been covered with concrete - to prevent exhumation and autopsy.
There are similarities between this case and that of another student, Zahra Bani Yaghoub, who died in prison last October after the morality police arrrested her for taking a stroll with her boyfriend. Officials also claimed that she committed suicide, but her family say that her body was severely bruised and that there was blood in her ears; they are convinced that she was murdered.
In the last two weeks, repression against student activists, and in particular members of the left-wing Azadikhah va Barabari-talab (For Freedom and Equality) alliance, has been stepped up, with dozens of new arrests bringing the known total to more than fifty. (Meanwhile, three students from Tehran Polytechnic have been acquitted by a court and formally cleared, but security and prison officials have refused to release them.) Even the officially tolerated “Islamic associations” of 37 universities have protested, issuing a joint statement in which call for an end to harrassment against the student movement.
Almost seven weeks have now passed since the initial arrests; in that period, families have been permitted only one short visit with their children; a number have also had their houses raided and searched and family members questioned.
Solidarity with the Iranian students is vital for the left, for two reasons.
As consistent democrats, socialists should make solidarity with these brave fighters for democratic and human rights (their slogan: “nothing can stop us”), regardless of their politics. What good is the socialist internationalism if it does not mean raising a storm of protest against the Islamic Republic’s brutal repression of the students — if we do not do everything we can to prevent other Iranian activists suffering Ebrahim Lotfollahi’s fate?
These general considerations are strengthened by the fact that most of those under the knife are not only democrats but socialists, or at least influenced by socialism. Their protests have been against not just the sharp edge of theocratic repression, but the regime itself; against a US-Iranian war and the militarisation of Iranian society; for the liberation of political prisoners; and for the unity of students, workers and women in the struggle for political and social democracy. Socialists in the west who hesitate before an idiotic fear of weakening the struggle to prevent a US attack on Iran should be reminded as sharply as necessary: these are our comrades and they need our support!
• For more information, see the website of the “Seeking Committee to Free the University Students” 13azar.blogspot.com (though the English section is not as well updated as the Farsi one)
• Workers’ Liberty students are campaigning to free our Iranian comrades. Part of our campaign is an attempt get one of them, Anoosheh Azaadbar, elected as Honorary Vice-President of NUS. For more information or if you want to help us campaign, get in touch: email@example.com