Iran has canceled its traditional Student Day march — which commemorates the anniversary of the Iranian seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 — for the first time in nearly 40 years due to coronavirus concerns, London-based Iran International reported on Monday.
The number of new coronavirus cases reported in Iran has surged in recent weeks. The Islamic Republic surpassed its single-day record for both new coronavirus cases and deaths for the second consecutive day on October 12, with over 4,200 new infections and 272 fatalities. The spike led government authorities to announce “tighter restrictions for the hard-hit capital of Tehran. Recently reopened universities and schools, as well as libraries, mosques, cinemas, museums and beauty salons shut down,” the Hindustan Times reported at the time.
In line with the newly re-imposed social distancing, the Acting Head of Iran’s Student Basij Organization, Mojtaba Bastan, announced a new campaign titled “Everyone together [says] down with the USA” for students to commemorate the 1979 U.S. Embassy seizure at home.
Speaking to an Iranian state-run TV news station this week, Bastan, said that “on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., parents and students should come together to ‘trample on and set fire’ to flags of the U.S., Israel, and France at home, where they can safely play with fire without worrying about catching a deadly virus.”
“In addition, a special website has been created where students are encouraged to upload minute-long videos, adding their names to the statement ‘U.S. must exit [Middle East] region,'” Iran International reported. “The website also features competitions ‘Why Down with the USA?’ and ‘Message to American Soldiers,’ for which students can enter drawings, essays, voice recordings, and video clips.”
Iran’s Student Basij Organization “is one of the five arms of the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], consisting of volunteers for a paramilitary unit that roughly translates as ‘mobilization,’ similar to the ‘popular mobilization’ units in Iraq or PMU that Iran backs,” the Jerusalem Post noted on Tuesday.
Basij in February threatened to destroy the tombs of Esther and Mordechai, a Jewish site, in revenge for U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed Middle East Peace Plan. “Three months later, the tombs were set on fire,” according to the newspaper.
Iranian college students supporting the Iranian Revolution seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. The students held 52 U.S. citizens and diplomats hostage for 444 days until January 20, 1981. The embassy remains shuttered today.
A Fortune reporter visited Tehran in 2016 and described an Iran still openly hostile to the U.S.
“It takes just a few minutes on the ground to realize that the revolution is far from dead and that many Iranians still deeply distrust America,” the author wrote.
“In Tehran itself, one tower still has a 100-foot mural showing the American flag with skulls and missiles, and the words ‘Down with the U.S.A.,'” according to the magazine.
“[E]ven today, ‘Death to America’ chants are a staple of Friday prayers,” the reporter added.
Iran has recently suffered from a severe financial fallout from persistent U.S. sanctions on the country. Trump’s administration, on September 21, reimposed U.N. sanctions on Iran meant to deter its nuclear proliferation and additionally imposed “new sanctions and export controls on more than two dozen entities and individuals that support Iran’s nuclear, missile, and conventional arms-related activities.”