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Rector Magnificus presented with long list of missing Iranians

Hester Bijl, the Rector Magnificus of Leiden University, was handed a ‘shockingly long list’ of names of missing Iranians in her office at the Administration and Central Services department on 13 December 2022. Staff from Leiden University, students and other members of the Iranian community presented her with the list to draw attention to the situation in Iran.

The group Bijl received comprised: Rik Jongenelen (from the African Studies Centre Leiden); his partner from Iran, Sadaf Nadimi (a student at Erasmus University), Sharareh Pour Ebrahimi from Iran (one of the organisers of the protests in the Netherlands); Nima Hakim, also from Iran (a student in Leiden and Delft), and an Iranian lecturer from the University who prefers to remain anonymous because of the danger to their family in Iran.

Uncertainty, stress and worry among Leiden Iranians

One or both parents of over 50 students at Leiden University come from Iran, and there are over 80 staff members who are Iranian nationals, including guest researchers and PhD candidates. Many of them are currently going through a difficult time of uncertainty, stress and worry.

‘I watch the news every morning and it’s always bad news,’ says the lecturer who wants to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions for their family, whom they would still like to be able to visit. ‘It’s causing a lot of stress and impacting my whole life.’ They hope that presenting the list to the Rector will help raise awareness about the situation in Iran. And that action like this will help engage politicians who can exert international pressure on Iran.

Nima Hakim: ‘Seemingly small acts like presenting the list of missing persons to the Rector can have a big effect. I want to bring Iranians together.’

Student Nima Hakim who is studying in both Leiden and Delft is also worried about the situation in Iran and it has often left him feeling depressed. But this has prompted him to take action. ‘Seemingly small acts like presenting the list of missing persons to the Rector can have a big effect. I want to bring Iranians together.’ We often don’t know each other that well for fear of the regime in Iran and for friends and family there. By campaigning in the Netherlands, I get to meet others, which does me good. And hopefully what I do will give others the courage to do something too.’

While talking briefly to Hester Bijl and a reporter from the local broadcaster, Hakim quotes Martin Luther King: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ When the journalist asks how it is affecting him to hand over the long list of missing persons – mostly young people and even minors – he says: ‘Obviously a lot and I also feel powerless. I’m finding it difficult to control my emotions right now.’

Hester Bijl (back), Rik Jongenelen (left) and Nima Hakim (right) hold the long list of missing Iranians
Hester Bijl (back), Rik Jongenelen (left) and Nima Hakim (right) hold the long list of missing Iranians

Freedom of expression

As Bijl unrolls the list of missing people, it proves to be too long to fit in her office. On the list, which was printed out a week ago, are hundreds of names. But the number already turns out to be wrong, with over 670 people now missing in Iran, and the number is changing daily. Nor does it include everyone: some people do not dare disclose the names of their missing family members for fear of the consequences. Two young men on the list have since been publicly executed. And the regime in Iran has announced that more will follow.

Bijl finds the situation in Iran really upsetting. ‘By receiving this list, we as a university want to show our support for our students and staff from Iran. They live in fear and anxiety and many have family and friends in the country. Academic freedom and freedom of expression are crucial to our university and to society. We will continue to express our support for the situation in Iran by speaking out publicly and by showing our students and staff who are affected that we are there for them. We will also ensure that our academics conduct research into the situation and contribute with their knowledge to possible solutions.’

Text: Dagmar Aarts
Photos: Simone Both

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