Behrouz Chamanara, a linguistic professor at the Western Kurdish University in Iran, was dismissed shortly after his qualifications were rejected by the local intelligence agency in September. Chamanara was arrested and interrogated in November 2022 for allegedly participating in anti-government protests held at the university in the Kurdish province. Following his dismissal, he moved to Germany.
Speaking to Radio Farda, a subsidiary of Radio Free Europe, Chamanara stated that the clerical leadership in Iran has been trying to control the universities since the Islamic revolution of 1979. When faced with public resistance, the authorities exert increasing pressure on the universities, he claimed.
According to Chamanara, this strategy has allowed Tehran to silence the professors, though not the students, to a certain extent. Nevertheless, he believes that this situation is not sustainable because universities have traditionally been the places where freedom is embraced and valued.
Chamanara stated that a climate of fear has prevailed since the authorities targeted universities in response to nationwide protests triggered by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody in September 2022. Amini was arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, and witnesses claim she was abused. Her death led to widespread outrage among Kurds and other minority groups and sparked the Women, Life, Freedom movement, which protested for women’s rights and against the strict hijab law.
Universities, which have long been strongholds of opposition voices in Iran, quickly became the centers of the protests. Female students removed their hijabs and joined male students in sit-ins to demand change. The authorities brutally suppressed the protests, resulting in the deaths of over 500 protesters nationwide within a few months. Student organizations were shut down, thousands of students and professors faced discipline or dismissal, and strict security measures were imposed.
The Kurdish University and several other educational institutions situated in Amini’s hometown were at the forefront of the protests and subsequent harsh response from the authorities.
Chamanara, who worked in the Kurdish language and literature department at the university, denies that his classes involved anything other than academic subjects. He claims that the authorities feared that university professors would incite the students to protest.
Chamanara states that he and others witnessed the expansion of the protests, as well as the authorities’ use of force against the students and the university’s encirclement by security forces, shortly after Amini’s burial in the nearby city of Saqqez. He stated that they tried to alleviate the tension, but the authorities infiltrated the students to escalate the conflict. He and others were arrested primarily because they were aware of the situation.
Chamanara was detained after meeting with the university’s president to discuss the student protests. He stated that he was invited to the meeting by an employee of the provincial security agency, and shortly thereafter, undercover police officers arrested him, claiming that it was for interrogation purposes only.
During his detention, Chamanara was given prison clothes, photographed, and subjected to the so-called „white torture.” This involves keeping prisoners under constant bright light in their cells, which is a common method in Iran.
Chamanara claims that for the following days, he was interrogated with his eyes blindfolded for up to ten hours at a time and was not allowed to have a lawyer. He says that everything he said was documented. The interrogators expressed concerns that professors from the Kurdish University and the country’s top professors would stand with the protesters.
His university studies and the period spent in Germany, where he obtained a doctoral degree and holds dual citizenship, were also questioned during the interrogations. Chamanara claims that his interrogators suggested that he gained experiences in Germany which he intends to use against Iran. He stated that they mentioned meeting a certain spy and spreading various accusations.
After eight days, he posted bail and was released.
Chamanara observed significant changes at the Kurdish University following the protests. Cameras were installed at the entrances of lecture halls, classrooms, teachers’ meeting places, and even the entrance of the dormitory where he and other professors lived.
He described the university atmosphere as extremely suffocating.
In September, the Kurdistan Intelligence Agency rejected his qualifications, and the university immediately refused to extend his contract. Feeling that he had no other options for his profession in Iran, Chamanara moved to Germany.
Written by Michael Scollon, based on the article by Kianush Faried, Radio Farda’s correspondent in London.