Iran Human RightsIranian regime penalises university activists

Iranian regime penalises university activists


The Guardian: Iran’s “starred” students – politically active university students barred from continuing with their studies – are desperately trying to obtain the right to go on with their education. Undergraduates who have criticised the government are given one to three penalty points, according to the possible threat they are said to pose. The Guardian

Politically active students in Iran are fighting to continue their studies after being blacklisted. Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports

Iran’s “starred” students – politically active university students barred from continuing with their studies – are desperately trying to obtain the right to go on with their education. Undergraduates who have criticised the government are given one to three penalty points, according to the possible threat they are said to pose. About 150 students are currently starred. Those who have been registered for masters courses have been forced to do so under preset conditions. The conditions allow university officials to expel the students at any time. “Three-starred” students are not allowed to register.

At least 17 three-starred students have been refused registration for the new academic year by university officials, despite passing Iran’s difficult masters degree entry exams. “I received a letter from the officials saying that although I’ve been approved academically, I cannot continue my studies because I’m accused of committing acts against national security,” says Roozbeh Riazi, a three-starred student. As a politically active student during his undergraduate studies, as a member of Amir Kabir University’s Islamic society, Riazi is not permitted to continue with his MA. “I think the state cannot tolerate any possible dissent – I’ve not done anything illegal,” he says.

Press forces admission

In the face of international and domestic press coverage of the issue, Iran’s minister of science, research and technology, Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, has finally acknowledged that certain students have been penalised, after many earlier denials. He admitted that decisions on starred students were taken by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and the intelligence ministry. “Students who had a star by their names had disciplinary problems or misconduct cited in their files, and they should be careful this is not repeated, or they will have problems,” he said.

He also complained about media exaggeration of the issue. The minister insisted that no starred student had been banned from registering. But Riazi denies this. “Nothing has been changed, we are still forbidden to continue our education,” he says. “They are just trying to ignore us.”

The chief of the parliament training and research commission, Ali Abbaspour Tehranifard, who is in charge of forming an investigative committee looking into the starred students issue, said: “We do not consider these 20 students [the three-starred”> important enough to form a special committee. It will waste the commission time.” He added: “We don’t have a starred students problem. I’ve been repeatedly informed that all starred students are registered.”

It is not the first time that students have fallen foul of government restrictions. Many have been summoned to university disciplinary committees accused of misconduct or committing acts against national security; some have been suspended from classes or even expelled. But student dissent has been gradually growing over further clampdowns in universities.

“Pressure applied on students by the government since [President”> Ahmadinejad came to power is not even excluded from university-based magazines and newspapers,” says Abbas Hakimzadeh, a student and editor-in-chief of Vajeh, the most prominent political magazine in Amir Kabir University in Tehran. His paper has been closed for a year, and he was suspended for a semester for one particular article on the hijab.

Ahmadinejad faced chants of “Death to the dictator” while addressing students in the university sports hall in December last year. The university was in turmoil. “When we went in the hall, half of the chairs were occupied by unfamiliar students,” says Bijan Pouryousefi, a student who was there. “We found that they were from Imam Hossein and Imam Sadegh universities, and regional Basijis who were there to support the president.” Basij militias are non-official groups who go into universities to preach Islamic thoughts and support the government. At Imam Sadegh and Imam Hossein universities, professors and students are appointed by the government; other universities have a public entrance exam.

“They [officials”> couldn’t do anything to protesters, because Ahmadinejad told them not to take revenge, but we as politically active students in the university were summoned to the disciplinary board for other excuses,” says Pouryousefi. “We had the same problems while [former president Mohammad”> Khatami was in power. The only difference is that Ahmadinejad uses much more violent words.”

Islamic societies are legal student groups whose members are politically active. They publish papers and hold protests, and many of their members are now starred students.

“University officials create obstructions by different means, [such as”> by summoning our members to the disciplinary board,” says Ali Azizi, a member of Amir Kabir University Islamic society. “They even call our families and impose mental pressures on them by threatening them regarding our expulsion, saying we are committing misconduct or illegal acts.”

Many critics believe that Ahmadinejad’s government is imposing restrictions on students through its choice of university directors. Controversially, Ahmadinejad appointed a clergyman, Ayatollah Amid-Zanjani, as the University of Tehran’s chancellor, in the face of student dissent. The University of Tehran is now in political silence, where once it was the most political and prestigious university in Iran.

Pressure on universities

Changing university directors and appointing people close to the government has put more pressure on universities and encouraged some students to leave the country. However, students who want to leave are permitted to do so only if they can produce at least €15,000 as “bail”. Amid-Zanjani, who has justified his decision to force some Tehran teachers to leave because they are “past retirement age” is himself much older than his colleagues.

Students are facing other pressures. “It seems that they are making much more difficult exams, imposing problems for [students”> so that they would have no free time for other activities,” says a student in Iran’s University of Science and Technology, where Ahmadinejad himself was a teacher until being elected.

He adds: “I just read and read for 12 years in school before entering university. Finally, I succeeded in Iran’s university entrance exam … I entered one of Tehran’s public universities, which is hard to enter, and I’m facing difficult exams again, so when I am going to do other activities?”

“Why doesn’t Ahmadinejad struggle for his students’ rights as well as ‘his obviously peaceful nuclear technology’?” asks another Iranian student, who asked not to be named. “It seems that even the international community is not paying attention because of the obsession with the nuclear issue.”

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