AAA Emphatically Endorses MESA Statement Supporting Protests in Iran

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America condemns the ongoing and intensified Iranian government repression of civilians practicing their constitutionally-guaranteed right to protest.

This latest wave of protests in Iran began on September 16, 2022 in response to the state killing of a young Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Jhina Amini. On September 13, Ms. Amini was arrested by Iran’s Gasht-e Ershad (Guidance Patrol) which is known to engage at times in the arbitrary surveillance and criminalization of Iranians, especially young women. Since the images of Ms. Amini’s unconscious body, bloodied and bruised, were published by the whistleblower journalist, Niloufar Hamedi (herself then arrested and detained on charges of plotting against the state), there have been numerous international expressions of outrage at the level of violence and impunity of Iran’s state officials in reaction to the justified and largely peaceful demonstrations. Far from accepting accountability and the initiation of reform, Iranian officials have presided over a massive storm of repression against civilian protesters.

In fact, Iranian forces, including the Basij, a paramilitary branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have used live bullets and lethal violence against protestors, young and old, in major cities of the interior (e.g., Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz, Esfahan, and Yazd) as well as in outlying provinces (e.g., Khuzestan, Baluchistan, Kurdistan, and Ardebil).

University campuses ​across Iran have been major sites for the protests, engaging faculty and students, alike. At the same time, these campuses have been targeted by the state’s security apparatuses. Starting on December 5, universities nation-wide held a three-day strike. The strikes, which coincided with Iran’s national student day, December 7, were met with extreme repression by state forces, sometimes by plainclothes officers. Peaceful student protesters have been attacked, arrested, and disappeared, while professors have been dismissed from teaching, arrested, and detained. Female students are at the forefront of the campus protests and they have been subjected to severe repression. Even more disturbing, detained students have been tortured, including through the use of sexual violence, and denied basic medical treatment while in prison. Meanwhile in a number of universities, including in Kharazmi and Arak, some 1,200 students reported being poisoned the night before the three-day strikes were to commence.

To date, nearly 500 protestors have been killed – among them, numerous children – and over 18,000 have been detained, including some 600 students. To our dismay, Iran’s parliament voted overwhelmingly, 277 out of 290, in favor of seeking death sentences for protestors, for vaguely defined offenses of moharebeh – the crime of waging war against God – and mofsed fel-arz –spreading corruption on earth. According to Amnesty International, to date, at least 21 individuals are at risk of execution.

The Board is deeply troubled by the extreme violence meted out by the state against its citizens. As MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom noted in its letter on October 6, such measures constitute, among other things, “clear violations of academic freedom and the right to education by the state security forces, as they transform educational institutions into battlegrounds to violently suppress peaceful protests.”

Pursuant to our commitment to promoting high standards of scholarship and teaching as well as defending academic freedom and the right to education, the Board declares its support of Iranian students, teachers, and scholars who have been risking (and giving) their lives to peacefully protest their government’s policies and engage their colleagues and the broader public on the many issues that confront them. We express our solidarity with our Iranian colleagues in Iran and the world over.

The following ACLS member organizations have cosigned this statement:

American Anthropological Association


Dance Studies Association

German Studies Association

Medieval Academy of America Advocacy Committee

World History Association