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Vigilantes Attack Tehran University Students Protesting Strict Hijab

Protest at Tehran University, May 13, 2019

A fierce fight broke out on Monday May 13 between students at the University of Tehran who had gathered to protest compulsory hijab, and Basij militia and pro-government plainclothes vigilante groups, reports from Tehran say.

The protest gathering started from the streets of the campus near the Faculty of Fine Arts and continued at the university's main auditorium where a deputy chancellor of the university tried to calm down the protesters and those who attacked them.

Reports say protests started in particular against the "Hijab and Chastity" campaign launched by the vigilante groups on the occasion of the month of Ramadan.

Posts by students on social media reported that pressures on female students have been redoubled during recent days as the beginning of Ramadan coincided with the start of an early summer weather. Both occasions usually trigger vigilante groups to campaigns for strict Islamic dress code.

Vigilantes invade the auditorium and attack students.

Videos on social media show students chanting slogans about their rights to choose what to wear and generally about freedom of choice.

The videos show clerics, vigilante groups and Basij members chanting Islamic slogans such as Allah-u Akbar while calling the students to respect the law and if not happy, leave the university. This comes while there are no laws in Iran about hijab and what is usually called "Islamic dress code" is largely discretionary.

After the vigilante groups dispersed the students who had gathered in front of the Faculty of Fine Arts, went into the auditorium and subsequently, violent Basij militia and vigilante groups stormed the auditorium, attacking the student.

At the auditorium, the students also chanted slogans against unemployment and abuse of women while some carried pictures of jailed student Marzieh Amiri. Some students also carried signs demanding free elections and freedom.

The hardliner website Students News Network has characterized protesting students as "a number of leftist activists" and labelled the attackers as the students of the University of Tehran.

Meanwhile, the state-owned Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted the university's vice-chancellor Majid Sarsangi as saying that "There has been no change in the university's dress code." He also denied claims by students about the presence of the "Dress Code Patrols" at the university, adding that "disciplinary forces warned students to respect the rules about Ramadan."

Sarsangi claimed that two opposing groups of students with different ideologies have clashed with each other.

Iran's Police Chief Hossein Ashtari had said in late April that a new patrol will control dress code in order to bring about what he called "ethical security." He added that this will be done in collaboration with the Basij.

Human rights watchdogs in Iran and abroad have always criticized the activities of the dress code patrol as invasion of privacy.