Monday , 15 July 2024

Blood, Batons, and Broken Dreams: Iran’s Bloody Friday

Iranwire – 25 years ago, on a balmy Friday evening in July 1999, the tranquil air of Tehran University’s campus was shattered.

The events marked the first direct confrontation between students and the government in the streets after two decades of severe repression, igniting a flame of hope for the survival of Iranian society following the killings and destruction of the 1980s

The notorious Ansar Hezbollah and Basij forces in plainclothes descended upon the grounds on July 9, leaving chaos and bloodshed behind.

Two days later, the violence spread like wildfire, engulfing Tabriz University’s dormitories as plainclothes forces unleashed a brutal assault that mirrored the carnage in Tehran.

Doors splintered and hung off their hinges, windows reduced to shards, the sight of blood smeared across floors and walls.

Torn books and notebooks lay scattered, faces once youthful and hopeful were now masks of pain, streaked with blood.

Although the Iranian government calls the events of July 9, 1999, a “riot” and “chaos,” many view the protests of July 9 and the days following as a turning point in Iran’s student movement and democracy.

The events marked the first direct confrontation between students and the government in the streets after two decades of severe repression, igniting a flame of hope for the survival of Iranian society following the killings and destruction of the 1980s.

The protests were fueled by revelations of the Ministry of Intelligence’s involvement in the assassination and murder of intellectuals and dissidents.

The reformist newspaper Salam had exposed these crimes for months, leading to its ban after publishing a letter sent to the Intelligence Ministry by Saeed Emami, a key figure in the series of murders.

In the letter, Emami, also known as Saeed Eslami, recommended changes to the press law to then-Minister of Intelligence Qorban Ali Dori Najafabadi, expressing concern about the country’s cultural situation and demanding that journalists be silenced.

On the evening of Friday, July 9, in protest against the banning of Salam newspaper, students at Tehran University began a rally.

Hours later, Ansar Hezbollah and Basij forces brutally attacked the campus.

The Iranian government never officially announced the number of casualties, but human rights activists report that nine people were killed over those few days in Tehran, including a young student named Mohammad Javad Farhangi.

Other victims included Ezzat Ebrahimnejad, Fereshteh Alizadeh, Tommy Hamifar, Mozhgan Tavakoli, Naimi, Javad Ghanbari, Sohrabian, Yavari, and Zakeri.

Reports from those days include accounts of students with broken heads, arms, and legs due to batons, beatings, falls from heights, and pellet wounds.

Additionally, around 300 students were arrested, including Ahmad Batebi, an art student photographed wearing his friend’s bloody shirt, and Behrouz Javid Tehrani, now living in Australia.

Akbar Mohammadi, another detainee of the July 9 uprising, died in 2006 after years of torture and a hunger strike in Evin prison.

The family of Saeed Zeinali, a student arrested during the attack and subsequently disappeared, remains unaware of his fate after 23 years.

IranWire reaches out to two photographers who bore witness to the uprising.

Mehgameh Parvaneh, now living in Texas, and Javad Montazeri, who has found refuge in Oslo, share their haunting recollections.

Parvaneh, a photojournalist who documented the aftermath of the attack the next morning by taking photographs at Tehran University and in the surrounding streets, recounted her experience to IranWire.

“Everywhere was closed, and there was heavy traffic on Amirabad Street. A friend of one of the students arrived and said he had a motorcycle, so I rode with them to the university. Amirabad Street was crowded, and there was confrontation everywhere.”

She described the efforts of a group of students to establish peace: “One young man was very eager to talk and encouraged everyone to calm down and engage in dialogue.

“However, the students advised against it, saying the Basij forces were inflexible and opposed to dialogue.

“I saw that this boy, who was eager to talk, was dragged by the Basij to a doctor’s building and beaten.

“When he emerged, he was bleeding from his nose, mouth, head, and face. He had no intention to fight and only wanted to calm things down. This showed that the Basij forces were not there to cooperate or empathize but only to inflict harm.”

Parvaneh, who was working for a reformist newspaper at the time, also shared her observations at Tehran University:

“The dormitories were set on fire, and the belongings of the students were destroyed. One boy was crying, saying that all his thesis work was ruined and he didn’t know how he would complete his project.

“The weather was very hot, and these students had been on the streets for 48 hours. When I asked why they didn’t go home, they said their homes were in other cities.

“They lived in the dormitory, and now they had no place to stay. Some were supposed to graduate and return to their cities.

“Many of them were not active participants in the protests and were not involved in the conflict at all. But those who attacked had burned everything indiscriminately.”

Javad Montazeri, a news photographer who documented the events of July 9, 1999, shared his experiences with IranWire. At the time, he worked for the reformist newspaper Khordad.

Montazeri recounted how he first learned about the attack on Tehran University: “I was the photo editor of Khordad newspaper, and it was my day off.

“The day after the attack, I was sleeping at home when my wife, who was also a journalist, called and told me that the university was crowded and the streets were closed.

“She suggested I go take pictures. I immediately called a colleague to cover it, but he couldn’t, so I went on my own.

“This was how I inadvertently became part of a significant event in our social and political history, which also impacted my personal life and career.”

Montazeri was the first photojournalist to enter the campus after the plainclothes forces’ attack, capturing moments of destruction and terror.

“When I approached the campus, I saw bricks scattered on the ground. The street was in chaos, and the situation was not normal.

“There was a large crowd of young people and students. The students controlled the entrance since the campus’s guarding was useless.

“Some recognized me from previous student gatherings I had photographed. My wife vouched for me, saying I was the photographer from Khordad newspaper, and they let me enter.

“I took pictures of burned rooms, broken doors and windows, shattered TVs and dishes, torn books and notebooks, and bloody walls. The scene was terrifying,” he said.

Montazeri hid his camera in a black bag, entrusting it to students who were with him. “The students were so terrified that they didn’t know who their friends or enemies were.”

“They showed me a window and said Ansar [Hezbollah] had thrown someone from it the previous night.

Bloodstains on the floor and walls indicated something horrific had happened. I photographed a student whose back was beaten with batons, showing signs of prolonged and severe violence. This was not a single strike but a sustained beating.”

He also spoke about the psychological damage inflicted on the students.

“They brought a student to the yard and asked me to photograph him. He was physically and mentally traumatized.

“When I took out my camera, he panicked, started yelling, and cursed. It was evident that the violence and terror of the previous night had left him in an unbalanced mental state. This was when I realized the extent of the brutality and fear these students had endured.”

Montazeri, who witnessed the chanting of “Death to Khamenei” in the streets of Tehran for the first time, recounts the moment the slogans changed to directly target Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“I heard the crowd chanting ‘Death to Khamenei.’ I was familiar with the political atmosphere, remembering the conflicts of the 1980s, what happened to my relatives, and the political groups. But this was the first time I heard this slogan in the post-revolution time.

“When I heard this slogan, I felt something significant was about to happen, and I had to focus. From that moment, the situation escalated. The Basij and Ansar Hezbollah, armed with sticks, seemed to lose control as if ordered to fight.

“They began beating students more openly. At that time, unlike today, these forces were not well-organized.

“Some did not even have proper batons and used ordinary sticks. They were unsure of what to do until July 9; they only knew they had to attack and hit. It was then I took a picture of a person covered in blood.”

Parvaneh also captured a significant moment that marked the change in student demands during the protests.

One of her famous photos shows a group of students with clenched fists chanting slogans on Enghelab Street in Tehran, right beneath a street painting of Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei.

“It was almost the last days of the clashes. The other students were defiant and angry. It was the first time I heard slogans against the [Supreme] Leader. I don’t remember the exact words, but they were directly addressing him, which was very disruptive at the time.

“People still did not dare to clearly chant slogans against the leadership, and the slogans were generally softer.

“But I remember that scene well when the students raised their fists and started chanting anti-leadership slogans right under the painting of Khomeini and Khamenei, and I captured it.”

Montazeri was arrested twice during the July 9 protests and faced death threats.

On one occasion, Montazeri and his wife, Asieh Amini, were identified in Tehran’s Fatemi Square and his wife was threatened with a gun.

Montazeri recounts, “Because of these conditions, I had to shave my beard and moustache and go to Chabahar with my wife, who is also a women’s rights activist and journalist, to avoid further threats.”

He described the atmosphere of terror created by the Islamic Republic’s supporters in the streets: “Those people had no brakes and were ready to do any dangerous thing for their ideology.

“We were aware of this issue and we were afraid of it, so we ran away. They are doing the same thing now to create terror among people.”

Parvaneh also witnessed an event on one of the final nights of the protests, which she believes led to the end of the student protests.

Recalling that night, she said: “I had heard that the students were going to come and light candles in front of Tehran University.

“It was night, and I left my mother’s house with one of the girls from my family to go to the market. We saw much chaos on the way. There was a shooting, and a female student was shot.

“On the way back, we were traveling from the south to the north of the Kurdistan highway when 5 or 6 vans with guns mounted on them passed in the opposite direction and went towards the campus.

“I don’t know how many shots were fired or how many people were killed or wounded because I wasn’t there, but I saw these vans moving towards the campus with guns.

“The next day, everything fell silent. There were no gatherings or protests at the campus, and the government was able to end the story completely with terror.”

The accounts highlight the extreme measures taken by the Islamic Republic to suppress the protests, using violence and intimidation to quell dissent and restore control.