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  • Writer's pictureAli Assareh

Fight for liberty and justice, riot police, violence, and hope

This week marks the 22nd anniversary of the brave 1999 student uprising in Iran.

The iconic photo below is etched in the collective memory of Iranians, and became the global symbol for the uprising too as it was published on the covers of The Economist & The Guardian.

I was 15 at the time & living in Iran.

I lied to my parents about where I was going one day, and took a cab to the University of Tehran, the epicenter of the protests.

I listened & watched in awe for 30 minutes. Chants of “Down with Dictator” echoed in the hot summer air.

I remember many “backs” — people’s backs — as I wiggled my small body through them to get closer to the University’s gates.

Then, someone screamed “run!” & all the backs suddnely became fronts, as everyone ahead of me turned & started running past me.

The regime’s guards had started attacking protesters & were closing in. I smelled tear gas.

I turned around & started running as fast as I could too. A few blocks down, I saw column upon column of riot police in full gear, marching towards the University.

I caught a glimpse of one of their faces — a kid not older than 22-23; in another world, he could have been a university student too.

A few more blocks down I took a cab & went home. I ate lunch with my mom in the kitchen & went to my room for an afternoon “nap” - as I stared at the ceiling, in shock from the surreal scenes I had just seen.

May freedom ring in Iran & every corner of our world, one day very soon ✊🏼♥️


In the picture below, a university student is holding up the bloody shirt of a fellow student beaten & detained by the police. Countless students were jailed and murdered in the uprising. The student in the picture was jailed too for years; he fled Iran in 2008.

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