Iranian students, faculty at UND speak of regime’s crackdown on protests
Demonstration held Saturday at Grand Forks' town square
GRAND FORKS — Iranian students and professors at UND are calling on the community to stand against the Islamic regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and president Ebrahim Raisi. The regime has cracked down heavily on dissent, since the arrest and death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the hijab police, an agency tasked with enforcing standards of morality.
Iranian authorities say Amini died of a heart attack. However, witnesses and family members allege Amini was beaten and tortured until she fell into a coma and later succumbed to her injuries.
Kouhyar Tavakolian, a native of Iran and director of UND’s biomedical engineering program, described the Hijab Police’s enforcement as arbitrary.
“Mahsa Amini was arrested and killed just because she was wearing her hijab improperly, exposing a little bit of hair. That’s ridiculous,” said Tavakolian.
Additionally, Tavakolian is concerned government figures on the number of protesters arrested and killed are wholly inaccurate.
“Anytime you hear a report from the Iranian government, you have to expect the number of people arrested or dead is ten times higher,” Tavakolian said.
Iranian women have been compelled to wear the hijab in public since the 1979 revolution, which deposed the Shah and installed the current theocratic Islamic regime. However, there have been a series of vocal protests throughout the country dating back to 2017, with women removing their hijabs and even burning them publicly.
The current iteration of protests has a connection to UND. Fatemeh Sepehri, the sister of a UND student, was detained after a raid on her home. Sepehri, who personally wears a hijab, is an advocate for women’s choice, and has thus drawn the ire of Iranian authorities.
According to UND alumnus Romtin Kardan, Iranian authorities have a history of harassing Sepehri due to her advocacy.
"The police keep arresting her and her brother," said Kardan. "There is no freedom of speech."
Mina Gholipour, an Iranian doctoral student in chemical engineering at UND, stressed the need to put pressure on the despotic Iranian regime.
“While the Islamic regime is killing people indiscriminately, Ebrahim Raisi addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday,” said Gholipour. “European and American governments should not negotiate with a butcher like Raisi.”
Tavakolian added that he was shocked at Raisi’s demands that Christiane Amanpour, a prominent British-Iranian journalist, don the hijab prior to a scheduled interview in New York following Raisi’s UN address. Amanpour refused, and the interview was canceled.
“I have never heard of an Iranian president demanding a journalist cover their head in a secular country. Not even (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad,” said Tavakolian, referencing the former Iranian president from 2005 to 2013 known for his contentious relationship toward Western governments.
Iranian students and faculty also held a rally to raise awareness of their compatriots’ plight in the Grand Forks Town Square on Saturday morning. Rally attendees lined up and held signs to show their support for Iranian women and to educate the public about the cause.