Students at the University of Tehran today protested during a speech by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, demanding cancellation of prison terms for their peers.
Several university students have received a total of 100 years in prison for having participated in anti-government protests since 2017.
Iranian universities, their academic staff and students are under tight security control. Protests or public deviation from the ideological or political precepts of the regime can result in arrests to expulsion from universities.
Rouhani in his first presidential campaign in 2013 promised to reduce political pressure in universities but the heavy security atmosphere continues on campuses.
In his speech today, Rouhani did not mention student grievances. Instead he talked about issues related to Islamic Republic’s foreign policy.
Rouhani admitted that in the past 40 years there has been a debate about Islamic Republic’s strategy; whether to interact with the world or confront other countries.
Speaking about sanctions, Rouhani said it is possible to just get by without interaction with the international community, but it is not possible to achieve progress.
He also made a pitch in favor of participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections in February, saying the “ballot box” is the only way of securing “people’s rights”. Interest in elections organized and controlled by the Islamic Republic has waned among the people, as repeated promises of more freedoms have never materialized.
Rouhani himself urged hardliners last week not to be strict in vetting candidates and allow more political diversity in the upcoming elections.