Editors: Akihiko Ozaki M.D., Yuki Senoo
November 23 was the 5th day since the Iranian government implemented the shutdown of Internet access in the country in response to the increasing protest activity across the country, followed by sharply raising gasoline prices. The Iranian authorities stated that the aim of the Internet shutdown was to suppress the nationwide anti-government protests. That was not, however, the only purpose of the Internet shutdown; according to a report by the New York Times, during this period of Internet shutdown, the United States State Department received over 20,000 messages, videos, and photographs showing human rights violations by Iranian security forces, including shooting at unarmed protesters. I am currently studying medicine in Slovakia, away from my home in Iran. I have been studying at this facility since 2015 and am in my 5th year right now. Although circumstances have never been easy for us Iranian students studying in European countries, it seems as if they are getting worse every month. Many Iranian students are finding it challenging to continue to study or to find a way to stay in the EU after graduation. Not being able to contact our families and facing economic instability are critical factors that could leave us with no choice but to go home.
<The internet shutdown>
The Internet shutdown began at midnight (local time in Tehran) on November 15, 2019. The national news suddenly announced that the petrol price was going to rise by 300%, and this oil shock caused widespread public panic in the whole country. Ironically, Iran, a country with an ocean of oil, is now experiencing a massive rise in petrol prices that no one can afford. Due to the sharp rise in petrol price, the economic burden on citizens of Iran has become greater than ever before; the price of almost every single product in shops has increased so much that people cannot tolerate it any longer. On November 16, people came out of their houses and participated in peaceful protests, which were conducted in 100 cities. However, these peaceful protests turned into riots after the guards used excessive force against the crowd, including beating and spraying pepper gas at protesters. According to netblock.org, the Internet shutdown is also heavily damaging the country’s economy. Each day of the Internet shutdown is costing about $370 million; plus, it has disturbed the work of many companies and people, which is beyond measure. Although IT experts claimed that the Internet could be restored via a proxy, this is fraught with the danger of being detected by the government. On November 21, CNN reported that although some of the protests were still active in some cities, most of the protests had been “put to death.” People are grieving for their lost ones as more than 108 were killed in the last couple of days. Government officials told the media that those who protested were not “ordinary people” and were guided by people from outside of the country to disrupt national security. Furthermore, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, called the protestors a “Bunch of thugs.” As the days pass, we will see whether the government decides to reconnect the Internet or not.
<Economic crisis in Iran>
Since the US announced its unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in May 2018, our country’s currency has dropped over 50% in less than a year, and this steep devaluation of currency does not seem to stop. Because of the enormous pressure of poverty and social instability across the country, public frustration increased. This anger led people to conduct peaceful protests to claim their rights and urge the government, amid deteriorating economic conditions, to implement new policies providing political and social freedoms.
<Protests and execution>
However, the country’s police and court have responded to these peaceful acts with massive arrests and severe violence, including executions. According to Alireza Rahimi, a parliamentarian, the authorities have arrested at least 4,900 people since December 2017, when the first protests occurred. Furthermore, the Human Rights Watch reported that the Iranian government executed 507 people in 2017 and over 250 in 2018, including children. This intense violence of the authorities has only worsened and increased public anger. It was reported that some protesters burned down government-owned buildings such as banks and police stations. Moreover, every day, more cities are getting involved in this economic war. Many people have lost their houses, and some have been burned to death by national guards while lodging on the street unarmed. The death count among protesters was rising hour by hour. To get help, people started disseminating information on social networks about what is going on in Iran, with videos of the police and military cruelly shooting protesters. However, the Iranian government found a way to shut down our hope of getting help from other countries. Due to the restriction of Internet access, nobody can send any information about the butchery of national guards and the violation of human rights.
<How the economic crisis is affecting Iranians outside of the country>
As I mentioned earlier, this Internet shutdown is also affecting people outside of Iran. Many students studying abroad usually receive money from their families every month, but now, our income source has also been cut off. Due to the US’s sanctions and threats, swift and international banking does not work in Iran. Furthermore, even banks in Slovakia and elsewhere in the EU refuse to let Iranian students open bank accounts because of the risk of penalty from the US. Those who had already opened a bank account in Slovakia before the relationship between the US and Iran worsened were informed that they had to close their account in 2018. One cannot imagine how lost you feel when you are studying abroad and are unable to have a secure income source.
<Iranian medical students and their future>
Many Iranian medical students who are studying in the EU are aiming to obtain a residence permit in the EU after graduation and desperately looking for any job opportunities as clinical residents anywhere in the EU. In Slovakia, international students are able to receive a maximum 9-month extended student visa after graduation from medical universities, and these 9 months are the last opportunity for Iranian students to stay in the EU. This is because, considering the current situation in Iran, it will be tough to get out of the country once you enter, especially if you are male due to conscription. At the moment, one of the easiest countries for Iranian students to obtain a residence permit and work opportunity as a medical doctor in the EU is Germany. First, you have to find an open residency position at a hospital and send them the certificate for a medical license in EU/EEA countries and a B2 language certificate for German. Once approved, applicants are generally required to sit an examination, which assesses clinical and language skills. Once you get accepted by the hospital, you are able to receive the residence permit in Germany called the “Blue Card” within 1-2 months. Although this is one of the most accessible career paths for Iranian medical students to pursue hospital jobs in the EU, not many students have successfully been able to make their way to Germany. As far as I know, only two Iranian students have obtained a position at an EU hospital as an intern.
<At the end>
This upcoming summer, in 2020, I am attempting to complete my summer internship at a hospital in Japan. Besides the fact that Japanese hospitals have good reputations worldwide and I am sure that I would be able to learn advanced medical techniques and obtain extended medical knowledge, I also heard from others that having a Japanese visa and the experience of training in a Japanese hospital could increase my chances of being accepted at a German hospital in the future. I am looking forward to my clinical practice in a Japanese hospital and hoping this opportunity will change my current situation.