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Iranian students’ repression sparks concerns for academic freedom, mirrors African challenges

The recent news of Iranian students facing legal threats for celebrating their graduation with a dance video has sparked global attention and raised concerns about freedom of expression and human rights.
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The recent news of Iranian students facing legal threats for celebrating their graduation with a dance video has sparked global attention and raised concerns about freedom of expression and human rights.

The video, which went viral on social media, depicted a group of female students from Al-Zahra University in Bushehr joyfully dancing and riding a motorcycle.

However, the university’s president, Zahra Hajiani, deemed the video an “illegal activity” and vowed to pursue legal action against the students.

This move has been criticised as an attempt to suppress the vibrant student movement in Iran.

Although the incident may seem geographically distant, its impact extends to African countries where similar struggles for freedom of expression and academic liberties persist.

In many African nations, students often face censorship, intimidation and even prosecution for engaging in activities perceived as challenging the status quo or expressing dissent.

In Uganda, during the 2016 presidential elections, several students were arrested for participating in protests against the government’s decision to limit political rallies and internet access.

Students have been targeted in Zimbabwe for expressing dissent against the government. In 2017, two university students were arrested for participating in protests against President Robert Mugabe’s administration and demanding educational reforms.

They faced charges of inciting violence and disrupting public order.

Nigerian students have also faced censorship and intimidation for challenging the status quo. Students, who have often found themselves in the crosshairs of censorship and intimidation, participated in the demonstration against police brutality. Their frustation was coupled with the fact that university lecturers embarked on strike actions throughout the year. The result was however tragic.

The 2020 #EndSARS protests, aimed at denouncing police brutality and advocating for police reform, was met with harsh crackdowns by security forces. Many students who took to the streets to raise their voices against injustice found themselves subjected to arrests, harassment and even violence at the hands of the authorities.

Despite their legitimate demands for change, Nigerian students were met with disproportionate force. The crackdown on student activists during the #EndSARS protests is as a stark reminder of the risks involved in speaking out against the government and the perils faced by those who dare to challenge entrenched power structures in Nigeria.

In Cameroon, students advocating for the rights of Anglophone minorities have faced repression.

During protests in 2016 and 2017, students were arrested, beaten and subjected to arbitrary detention for demanding greater autonomy and recognition of their linguistic rights.

In Egypt, students have also been targeted for expressing dissent against the government.

After the 2013 military coup, the authorities cracked down on student activists affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups. Many students were arrested, expelled from universities, or subjected to violence for participating in protests and expressing dissenting views.

The threat of legal action against students for celebrating their achievements resonates with the broader issues of censorship and repression prevalent in some African countries.

Just as in Iran, where vague laws are used to prosecute individuals for “indecency,” African students also encounter legal ambiguities that are exploited to suppress their rights.

The solidarity and resilience demonstrated by Iranian students in the face of repression is an inspiration for students in African countries grappling with similar challenges.

The determination of these students to defy oppressive rules and celebrate their achievements is a universal desire for freedom and self-expression among young people worldwide.

The international community’s response to this incident sets a precedent for advocating for the rights of students in Africa and beyond.

Organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting human rights and academic freedoms must stand in solidarity with students facing repression, regardless of their geographical location.

While the incident involving Iranian students may seem isolated, its repercussions resonates across continents, particularly Africa.

It serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for freedom and human rights faced by students globally and the importance of collective action in defending these fundamental principles.

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