Just minutes before the rally kicks off in the afternoon of Wednesday 30 November, a sense of peace and calm descends on the square in front of the TU Delft Auditorium. Participants hold up signs reading ‘They kill us in your silence’, ‘We are all one’ and ‘Stop bloodshed in Iran’. One woman covers up her face with a scarf, making sure she stays anonymous while another hoists the Iranian flag.
They all joined in raising awareness for the attack on the academic freedom of students, teachers and university staff in Iran, and showing solidarity to the scholars who have been unjustly repressed, arrested or murdered. The rally on the TU Delft campus is one of many occurring internationally as over 200 universities joined the Iranian Scholars For Liberty initiative.
Heroes in your hands
“Today we are here to stand with the Iranian people who are fighting for their basic human rights,” Sadaf, one of the organisers, addresses the attendees. “For Iranians this is their 11th week on their path to freedom for which they are paying an unimaginable price: their lives and those of their loved ones.”
A participant holds a poster of one of many people arrested during the protests in Iran.
“These are heroes that you hold in your hands,” she says, referring to the posters people are holding up. The posters show the photos and names of Iranians that have been arrested during the protests. “They are just like us, people that want a normal life. Something that is so normal here in the Netherlands. Over 1,800 of these people have been arrested now. They are being beaten, tortured and raped while in prison. Our response is to be their voice, because they can’t do it.”
During the rally several speakers were invited on stage. Amongst them were (among others) Zofia Lukszo on behalf of Dewis, and Diversity Officer David Keyson. He also spoke on behalf of the TU Delft Executive Board who, up till then, were reluctant to take a stand on the matter.
“The fact that we have the support of the Executive Board shows that TU Delft values students' academic freedom - not only at TU Delft itself, but worldwide,” says the organising committee. “Their support for the Iranian scholars and what they are going through at the moment also shows that they value inclusion. It is clear that students are being listened to and efforts are being made to contribute positively so that our tomorrow is just a little better than today - at least at our own TU Delft.”
After Keyson’s speech, the organising committee offered him a roll of paper containing the names of all the Iranian students who had been arrested during the protests. As the list is rolled out it covers the complete square in front of the Auditorium. “The scale of this is unfathomable until it’s displayed in front of you,” whispers a participant.
A list of the names of all Iranian students arrested during the protests.
After a few talks the participants are asked to join in to sing the protest song ‘Baraye’ (it has been translated to ‘For woman, life, liberty’ in English). The song is based on the many Tweets that were sent after the death of Mahsa Amini and the start of the protests. Trying to capture the sentiment, the song covers several topics like women’s rights, freedom of speech, poverty, outdated social and religious taboos, and corruption.
As pamphlets with the lyrics in both Farsi and English are being handed out, technical problems are getting in the way of playing the music. To break the silence one participant starts chanting slogans like ‘Women, life, freedom!’ and ‘Say her name: Mahsa Amini’. The crowd joins in passionately as two students take to the stage to provide the music themselves. They sing the song acapella, but it doesn’t take long before their voices are drowned out by the audience.
The lyrics to the song Baraye.
The organising committee looks back on a successful rally. “The fact the we were able to put this together in such a short time with little to no experience, amazed us. We were also surprised by the fact that not only Iranians showed up, but also a lot of Dutch and international students. It shows that they support us and value academic freedom.”