In an increasingly desperate and savage bid to crush the nationwide insurrection that has inflamed young Iranians, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and their thuggish Basiji militia colleagues, are using batons, teargas and live ammunition to attack protesters. The uprising, which has now spread to 199 cities, has led to the deaths of more than 400 people, including 32 children, and over 20,000 arrests. Students in 45 major Iranian universities have joined the protests, as have secondary and even primary school pupils in schools across the Islamic Republic. The common chant of the protesters is: ”Death to Khamenei”, calling for the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Iran and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But as the insurrection enters its seventh week, the theocratic regime has unfurled a sinister new tactic. Police and IRGC officers have begun rounding up primary and secondary school pupils who joined the protests, incarcerating them in “psychological correctional facilities” for re-education and, according to the education minister Yousef Nouri, “to prevent them from becoming antisocial characters.” 

The psychiatric incarceration of political dissidents was a commonplace tactic in the Soviet Union. As ardent admirers of Vladimir Putin and his efforts to recreate the USSR, the mullahs’ regime is now borrowing from the Russian playbook. People who were deemed guilty of political opposition to the communist dictatorship and who participated in civil rights protests, were regarded as mentally unstable under the old Soviet system and sent to psychiatric units for enforced ‘treatment.’ The same shameful approach is now being applied to children in Iran. Boys and girls of school age who have been identified as participants in classroom, playground, or street protests, are being arrested and sent for re-education, to teach them that the mullahs’ repressive regime is beyond reproach! There have been reports of police demanding that headteachers hand over the names of girls who have protested against the strict dress codes for females, including the compulsory wearing of the hijab. Teachers who have refused to hand over girls’ names have been arrested.

The nationwide uprising was triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from the city of Saqqez in Kurdistan Province, western Iran. She had travelled to Tehran with her family and was arrested on September 13 by the so-called ‘Morality Police’, accused of not properly covering her hair with her hijab. She died after being brutally beaten by the police in custody. The strict enforcement of hijab laws had been ordered by Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line Iranian president, dubbed ‘The Butcher of Tehran’ for his role in the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in 1988. Despite attempts by the regime to close down access to the internet, there has been a widespread distribution of videos showing teenagers and schoolgirls tearing off their hijabs, sometimes even cutting their hair and chanting “woman, life, freedom”, the rallying cry for millions of Iranian women who are angry and frustrated at the repressive, misogynist laws imposed by the mullahs. The education minister clearly believes that such people, especially children, must be mentally disturbed. The use of psychiatry as a means of repression has been a particular favourite of fascist and communist regimes for decades. The systematic political abuse of psychiatry is also now happening in the People’s Republic of China, where the massive Xinjiang internment camps are believed to be holding 1-3 million Uyghur citizens for compulsory ‘re-education.’ Traditionally, detainees are held in such re-education centres without trial, so their incarceration can be for indefinite periods.

The Iranian education minister Yousef Nouri said: “We don’t have any students in prison, and if they are detained, they are sent to psychological centres where experts are doing their work so the students can return to the school environment after they have been reformed.”This is a shameful and outrageous ploy by a regime that has already plumbed the depths of depravity. Nelson Mandela said “The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.” There are already an estimated 33,000 destitute street children, sleeping rough in Iran’s towns and cities. They range in age from 5 to 18. They are starved and abused and forced to sleep on the same streets where they try to eke out a paltry living selling flowers, gum, washing windows and grabbing any chance of menial labour to survive. Deprived of even basic welfare, they are forced to work for a pittance to avoid death from starvation. Many children can be seen rummaging through garbage bins and landfill dumps, looking for items to eat or to sell. The governments of most civilized nations would deem feeding starving children as a priority. But the repressive mullahs’ regime regards them with derision as some sort of contaminant to be cleansed from the streets. It is little wonder they have joined their sisters and brothers in the uprising. They feel they have nothing to lose.

Any country’s future relies on its children and the mullahs are destroying that future. There is chance that any of Nelson Mandela’s wisdom and vision will ever have penetrated the medieval minds of the mullahs. The only hope for the future is the rapid removal of this malevolent regime. The west must not stand idly by and watch as young girls and boys are impoverished or forcibly detained in psychological correctional facilities by the Iranian regime. We must back the protesters in their bid to overthrow this tyrannical fascist autocracy.