Middle Eastern unrest ‘happens too frequently’: Persian Soc anger at uni response to Iran

Persian Society express anger over Bristol Uni’s lack of support


Bristol University’s Persian Society has heavily criticised the university’s response to the ongoing violence against women in Iran, after the society reached out to the university for support.

After concerns over silence from the uni, Persian Society sent a collective letter to Deputy Vice-Chancellor Judith Squires asking for support. In response it received an email from Sarah Purdy, Vice-Chancellor for student experience, expressing “collective sorrow and concern” with an attached link to a well-being form and an invitation to a Global Lounge event.

At the event, Judith Squires is reported by Persian Soc as saying that middle-eastern unrest “happens too frequently” and “won’t be the first or last time” and therefore does not warrant uni-wide support.

Bristol university refutes this claim: “In response to a request that the University make a statement condemning the actions of the Iranian Government, she indicated that we did not issue statements in response to the wide range of human rights issues and crisis taking place around the world.  Rather, we focus on providing support for any student or colleague who is affected by these situations”. Bristol Uni says it decides to how to respond to human rights issues on a “case by case basis” and its primary aim is to support students most affected by the situation in their homeland.

Previously, Bristol Uni sent emails to the entire student and staff body for significant global events such as the war in Ukraine, Queen Elizabeth II death and the Black Lives Matter movement. A member of Persian Soc deemed Purdy’s response as “terribly problematic” as it “normalises war and unrest”.

Persian Society has requested a university-wide email “expressing their concern for the situation in Iran and their students here and mentioning that they stand in solidarity with the people of Iran in their fight for freedom”. A move which a member stressed was “especially relevant as the Iranian government is attacking Iran’s top universities and schools”.

However, despite protests attended by hundreds of people, the university has remained neutral to the wider student body. Persian Society alleges that at the Global Lounge event, one of the reasons given for not emailing students was over concerns it might alienate or anger people by taking a stance on a religious matter. However, a spokesperson from Persian Soc explained, “We want to stress that the situation in Iran is about the violation of women’s and human rights – especially the right to freedom of speech and the right to wear whatever you want to wear, which the people of Iran are currently being murdered over. This situation does not need to become one of faith or religion but rather a plea for help to be given the right to choose.”

Protests broke out in Iran calling for an end to a mandate on women wearing the Hijab several weeks ago after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was taken into custody for not wearing a hijab ‘correctly’ before being brutally beaten to death by police. However this is not an isolated incident, many more students and activists have been beaten, kidnapped and killed by government forces over the course of the unrest such as 17-year-old Nika Shakarami and 16-year-old Sarina Esmailzadeh.

Iran has been a dictatorship since the 1979 revolution which resulted in the ascension of Ruhollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader of the country. Since then, Iran has been under strict Islamic rule, viciously quashing protests calling for women’s and human rights.

Bristol SU put out a statement on the civil unrest in Iran: “Our thoughts are with any of our students who have been affected by the civil unrest taking place in Iran and we stand in solidarity with those who are facing oppression.”

When approached for comment, a spokesperson for Bristol University spokesperson told The Bristol Tab: “As an institution, we assess how best to respond to human rights issues on a specific and individual basis, as we also do in cases of territorial invasion or warfare.

 “Our primary aim is to offer support for members of our community who are most likely to be impacted by any situation in their homeland. In this case, it was felt that we should absolutely support Iranian students, who we reached out to via email, and also organised an event in the Global Lounge which was well attended.”

The Persian Society has said they are in contact with several other groups at universities across the UK who feel similarly “outraged” by the response from their respective institutions and hope to drive a collective response to raise awareness for the cause.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Nightlife for Dummies (Freshers): Your guide to Bristol’s clubs

• UNISON protestors claim Bristol University is refusing to negotiate on pay rise

• ‘The key thing is you need help, ask’” New Bristol Vice-Chancellor is here to listen