RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) on 22 March interviewed two students from Al-Basrah University who were involved in the clashes with al-Sadr militiamen and subsequent demonstrations.
RFI: What attitude do the students take to the interference of political groups in the university?
Ahmad (Al-Basrah University student; not his real name): Of course, students of generally all faculties of Al-Basrah University strongly reject this undisguised interference. This happened after the fall of the regime [of Saddam Hussein] when [political] parties, under various guises, entered the university with the pretext of election for the Students' Assembly and other [pretexts]. They started to hang religious slogans in departments and institutes and no one could say anything. We cannot speak [against that] because then we would be threatened with killing. This threat sometimes comes even in extreme forms. Being beaten or sworn at is just the most simple example.
RFI: How does the threat reach you? By telephone, e-mail, or directly?
Ahmad: It is being delivered by other students who communicate the threat, or they send it in a written way to the [threatened] students.
RFI: Have any of these threats been fulfilled, in beatings or killings?
Ahmad: Yes, the threats have been fulfilled. Two months ago, in Al-Basrah University and exactly in the Department of Sciences, two female students were killed who had some time before been warned that they should be wearing hijab [a veil]. They refused to wear hijab, as it is a private matter. Both of them were killed in front of the doors of their houses, in fact. [The killers] followed them home from the university. All the students know about that.
RFI: Could you give their names?
Ahmad: Well, in fact, I cannot because I am their [distant] relative and I do not know if it is good to say their names. [Militiamen] come [with threats] not only to students but the family can also suffer because of them. They are ready to threaten [the families] as well. No one dares to speak out.
RFI: What position does the university take to these affairs, to these threats and interventions from extremist political parties? Have you not delivered your opinion to the university?
Ahmad: Yes, our opinion and word has reached the university and the university knows very well about it. But when students go to a dean or to the university president, they are told: "We cannot do anything because we are being threatened ourselves." The university president cannot issue any order because if he did so, his and his family's lives would be in danger. It is the same with the deans who have no power in these matters. They come to students and say: "Children, we would like to do something but we cannot. We are afraid for your lives. We are afraid for your and your family's future." This is their reaction; this is our reality. We are extremely oppressed, more than we were oppressed in Saddam's times. Much more.
RFI: What is the stance of the municipality or of the governor?
Ahmad: All of them step silently with them. All governors that have come, apart from Wa'il Abd al-Latif who was neutral, or trying to preserve neutrality. After him, all were following [the Islamists]. The police are with them. When there was the demonstration, the police and the National Guard were shooting at students as they tried to break students up.
RFI: Were you an eyewitness of that?
Ahmad: I was in the demonstration. When the demonstration started, they tried to break students up by shooting in the air. When we tried to enter the university [campus], they prevented us from that. When they saw that the number of students enormously grew, as even students of secondary schools joined the students of faculties and institutes, they let the demonstration continue and did not do anything. But the students who were in the demonstration are now receiving mailed threats to keep silent.