Twenty-two years ago today, authorities in Iran mercilessly cracked down on protesting students in Tehran and several metropolitan cities like Tabriz, Mashhad, Isfahan, and Shiraz. A day earlier, on July 8, 1999, the Judiciary sealed ‘reformist’ paper, Salam.

In response, students of Tehran University flooded onto the streets, venting their anger over the government’s oppressive measures. They hopefully staged a peaceful gathering calling on ‘reformist’ President Mohammad Khatami and his government to ensure freedom of press and expression.

However, not only did the ‘reformist’ President nothing but paved the path for a bloody suppression that resulted in at least 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Around 1,500 students were reportedly detained and were tortured and beaten in custody to make confessions.

President Khatami Betrayed Students

Despite students’ protests in support of ‘reformism’ and ‘reformist’ President Khatami, the most prominent leader of ‘reformists,’ avoided condemning suppression and recognizing protesters’ rights.

Instead, he condemned students’ movement and involved in suppression, which was perceived as one more nail in the coffin of ‘reformism’ under the Islamic Republic system. Indeed, he practically proved his loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his theocracy contrary to his previous claims about freedoms, civil rights, women’s rights, and moderation.

“Following the Student Dormitory incident, a riot emerged. Riot and chaos in Tehran, it was an ugly and disgusting incident, which disturbed our dear, resilient, patient, and rational nation,” Khatami said in a meeting in Hamedan city on July 27, 1999.

“What happened in Tehran was a blow to the national security; it was an attempt to disquiet noble people, destroy public and private properties, and above them, insult to the state, its values, and the Supreme Leader,” he added. “Indeed, not only was this riot an anti-security action, but it was a declaration of war against the President and his promises. With God’s help, this chaos was quelled.”

On the 18th anniversary of the Student Protests, Fars news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), published former chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi’s remarks highlighting the role of Khatami and Hassan Rouhani—President from 2013 to 2021—in crackdown on peaceful protesters. At the time, Rouhani was the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) secretary.

“During July 9, 1999, armed forces countered street riots under a license issued by the SNSC and the council’s head, meaning the president Khatami,” Fars quoted Firouzabadi as saying.

Later, on February 26, 2018, Firouzabadi leaked more details about Khatami’s role in suppression. “Mr. Rouhani called Mr. Khatami. Khatami said, ‘If the IRGC would like to involve, it should not wear fatigues.’ We said, ‘OK, we order them not to wear uniforms.’ Then, Khatami said, ‘Tell IRGC forces to do whatever they want.’ When he said this sentence, every commander called his unit, and the riot was quelled,” Firouzabadi elaborated.

At the end of his tenure, Khatami frankly blamed students in a visit to Tehran University. “Don’t get angry. You are young. You do not know what this is all about. If you represent the nation, I am the enemy of the nation,” he responded to protesting students on December 6, 2004.

In this context, Khatami practically proved that both ‘reformists’ and ‘principlists’ are cuts from the same cloth. They pursue to keep the theocracy in power, and their political rivalries are merely publicity stunts for preventing public protests.

Khamenei Showed the Islamic Republic Would Never Change Its Behavior

On May 10, 2017, Khamenei explicitly cleared that the Islamic Republic would never throw away its oppressive measures inside Iran and aggressive and provocative behavior abroad. “The enemy’s longstanding target is the Islamic state’s principle… Behavior change does not differ from regime change,” Khamenei remarked at the IRGC University called Imam Hossein.

“Behavior change means when we follow Islam’s path, the [Islamic] Revolution’s path, the Imam’s path, well now take an angle; first 20 degrees, then 45 degrees, then 90 degrees, and finally walk 180 degrees in a contrary to them. This is the behavior change, which means the subvert of the Islamic state, and it is their longstanding purpose,” he explained.

In July 1999, Khamenei had proven that he only speaks with the language of suppression with protesters. In this respect, his loyalists called Ansar-e Hezbollah and Basij paramilitary forces, both affiliated with the IRGC, attacked defenseless students.

They brutally kicked down doors, smashed through halls, grabbed female students by the hair, and set fire to rooms. Several students were thrown off of third-story balconies onto the pavement below. Several students, including Saeed Zeinali, was forcibly disappeared.

However, to gain political and financial privileges, appeasement advocates in the United States and other European countries ignored the Islamic Republic’s savagery against protesters. They did no significant action to curb more human rights violations. Of course, they had already blacklisted the leading opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI) to appease the ayatollahs’ brutal ruling.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright listed the MEK as a foreign terrorist group in October 1997 as part of a diplomatic effort to open dialogue with moderates in Tehran. Some reporting at the time attests to this.

“One senior Clinton administration official said the inclusion of the People’s Mujahedeen was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran and its newly elected moderate president, Mohammad Khatami,” wrote Norman Kempster in the Los Angeles Times.

Oppressors of the Student Protests

In addition to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then-President Mohammad Khatami, as well as Hassan Firouzabadi, the then-chief of staff, and Hassan Rouhani, the outgoing President, current officials played crucial roles in suppression.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf

In 1999, Parliament (Majlis) Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf was the commander of the IRGC Air Force. He was heavily involved in the crackdown of the 1999 Student Protests.

In remarks during his campaign for the 2013 presidential race, Ghalibaf specifically said he was in the streets when the regime’s security forces were attacking the protesters during the 1999 protests.

Ghalibaf is also proud of always taking a stance against the MEK ever since 1980 and “being in the streets wielding sticks” to defend the regime whenever needed. Ghalibaf was appointed as the state police chief in 2000 and was active in launching various new units to ensure a social crackdown.

Furthermore, in the third round of debates for the 2017 presidential elections, President Hassan Rouhani raised a part of the oppressive role and plundering of Ghalibaf.

“I had the case of Mr. Ghalibaf in 2005. However, I didn’t let it be published and argued with several people in the secretariat of the SNSC. I reckoned that during the elections campaign, no one should be informed [about the case]. Mr. Ghalibaf, now, you wouldn’t sit here if I didn’t do you that favor,” Rouhani said in elections debate in May 2017.

“Mr. Ghalibaf, you always planned to put [protesters] into ‘pipes.’ Every time, you were saying in the secretariat, ‘Let me put these students into pipes over two hours. If we didn’t object to you, now, all the Iranian universities would have been filled with pipes,” ILNA news agency quoted Rouhani as saying on May 12, 2017.

Qassem Soleimani

In 2013, Ghalibaf also admitted to the role of Qassem Soleimani, the former IRGC Quds Force chief, in suppressing Students Protests in 1999. Soleimani was renowned as the orchestrator of Tehran’s terror operations in the Middle East and globally. On January 3, 2020, he was eventually killed in a drone strike in Baghdad while he had traveled to lead terror attacks against the U.S. embassy. His death prompted citizens’ joy in Iran and Mideast countries.

“During the incidents of July 9, 1999, at Tehran University and its dormitory, I wrote that letter. I was with Mr. Soleimani. We stood firm. Many people criticized us. Even now, wherever we go, they still criticize us,” explained Ghalibaf.

“When rioters approached the Supreme Leader’s office, I was the commander of the Air Force. My photo exists on a 1,000-cc motorbike with a club in my hand along with Hossein Khaleghi,” Ghalibaf added.

Ebrahim Raisi

At the time, Ebrahim Raisi, the ‘winner’ of the 2021 Presidential race, was one of the high-ranking judicial authorities. He was the head of the Inspection Organization, which supervised and examined the performance of all ministries and government offices.

In this context, Raisi realized what was happening in the streets during the bloody crackdown on defenseless students. However, he said nothing and practically approved the suppression, which paved the path for him to win the seat of Judiciary Chief in 2019 and Presidency in 2021.

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i

Just like Raisi, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i had held a high judiciary occupation at the time. He was Tehran Prosecutor and had ruled a controversial court about the corruption cases of Gholam-Hossein Karbschi, then-Tehran Mayor, some months ago. Thanks to his merciless rulings, Eje’i has recently been appointed as Judiciary Chief by Khamenei.