More than 2,000 academics from universities across the United States have written to President Joe Biden urging him to do more to support the anti-government protesters in Iran, many of whom are coming out of Iranian universities and schools as young Iranians take to the streets and face off against the country’s brutal security services.
The letter sent to Biden Tuesday evening, which was obtained by CNN, was signed by 10 Nobel laureates, among many others. It calls for “urgent attention to a dire situation in Iranian universities,” and beseeches Biden to take “further tangible actions,” including an end to negotiations with Iran and no sanctions relief.
Iranian students have declared sit-ins and strikes in some of the biggest anti-government demonstrations to grip the country since the 1979 revolution. The movement has largely been inspired and energized by women following the death of 22-year-old Masah Amini after being detained by Iran’s morality police in mid-September.
Until the protests erupted after Amini’s death, the Biden administration had been focused on resurrecting the nuclear deal with Iran, an effort that has now been paused. The administration imposed more sanctions on Iran and has been meeting with prominent activists and weighing how to support the protesters. CNN previously reported that the White House has spoken with Elon Musk about how his Starlink satellite internet system could work in Iran.
But the signatories feel the US hasn’t gone far enough.
“This administration must make the regime pay the price for every person it has killed or injured or jailed,” said Professor Kazem Kazerounian, the dean of engineering at the University of Connecticut who helped spearhead the letter to Biden. Kazerounian said he and his wife protested against the Shah of Iran during the 1979 revolution and then left to the US after universities were closed. Many who put their names on the letter are part of the Iranian diaspora in the US.
“Everyone is moved with the news that is coming from Iran, the bravery of women and girls in nonstop protests, day and night,” added Kazerounian. “It’s very natural for our academic colleagues come together in solidarity with the academic community in Iran.”
Calling university campuses “sacred ground,” the letter highlighted the violent crackdown on Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology last month. Students were fired on and trapped in a parking lot by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to videos CNN verified from social media.
“There was blood everywhere,” an eyewitness told CNN.
Several hundred protesters are believed to have been killed and thousands arrested, observers and activists say. Around 1,000 have been indicted for their involvement and will be tried, the chief justice of Tehran province said on Monday, according to state-run IRNA.
“This is really painful for my conscience,” said Morteza Gharib, a professor of aeronautics at Caltech who signed the letter. “I cannot be quiet and not express my dissatisfaction with this and also the expectation as a US citizen I have from our president.”
“We need more, not just words,” he added.
Over the weekend, students at another university in the capital, the University of Tehran, were seen in a video obtained by CNN marching and chanting: “It’s not the time for mourning. It’s time for anger.”
“With the continuation of nationwide protests, Islamic Republic armed plainclothes forces have entered university campuses to violently crush and arrest protesting students,” Iran Human Rights, an NGO based in Norway, said.
The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Hossein Salami warned at a funeral on Saturday that it would be the last day protesters would take to the streets.
“Don’t turn the university into a battlefield of America against the nation,” Salami said, accusing the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and Israel of fomenting the unrest.
Aside from demanding that Biden stop negotiations with Iran’s theocratic regime, the academics asked that there be no sanctions relief “until all violators of human rights in Iran are held accountable.”
“We also ask you to recognize the universally accepted right of the Iranian people to self-defense as they seek to attain sovereignty and self-determination,” the letter concluded.