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Iran: Government Pressuring Activist Students, Universities

  • Vahid Sepehri --> A student demonstration at Tehran's Sharif University on March 13, 2006 (Courtesy Photo) January 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Recent reports indicate that the Iranian government is intensifying restrictions on activist students and universities, although Iran's education minister has dismissed reports of such pressure and said the authorities have so far been "lenient" on universities and students.

The pressure applied by the state on universities has taken various forms: students have been summoned to university disciplinary boards for alleged misconduct, suspended from classes for various periods of time, student newspapers have been shut down, and university directors and professors have been dismissed, and students have been denied entry to graduate schools due to their political activism.

"Radicalism in the student movement is caused by the ninth government's treatment of student activists and legal formations at universities."

Star Students

These are the so-called "starred" students -- named because stars or asterisks have been placed next to their names on official lists.

In the past several weeks, the Iranian media have documented several instances of restrictive or punitive measures against students.

In one case, the editor of the student review "Farhang-i Mubarez" at Shahrud University, east of Tehran, was summoned to the disciplinary board there following complaints by city officials that items in the review had insulted local officials, ISNA reported on January 2.

The same day, ILNA reported the closure of the student union at Bu Ali Sina University in Hamedan, western Iran.
In another instance, an official of the Jandishapur Medical University in Ahwaz, southwestern Iran, spoke to ISNA on January 3 about a number of students facing unspecified punishments after someone allegedly complained about their "disrespect for student norms."

ISNA reported the same day that 11 medical students from Shahr-i Kurd in western Iran had been summoned to the disciplinary board of the Shahr-i Kurd Medical Science University to answer questions over reported rowdiness in dormitories, though student Aref Fadai told ISNA he thought this was an "excuse."

So Many Examples

Lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told ISNA on January 5 that he will complain to the Administrative Justice Court over the expulsion of his client, doctoral student Matin Meshkin, from Tehran's Amir Kabir University.

Several students from Azad University of Sanandaj, in western Iran, were suspended for one or two terms, or admonished in writing, after participating in protests on December 13, ILNA reported on January 6.

Shiraz University student Mohammad Mehdi Ahmadi was summoned to the university disciplinary committee sometime before January 8 for allegedly inciting a student strike, Shiraz student Masud Kheirati told ILNA on January 8. Many similar cases have been reported.

As regards starred students, Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, the Science, Research, and Technology Minister -- Iran's higher-education minister -- explained to students in Ahvaz on January 3 that according to the decisions of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution (Shura-yi Ali-yi Enqelab-i Farhangi), a body formed after the 1979 revolution, postgraduate students who had a star by their names had disciplinary problems or misconduct cited in their files, and "you should be careful this is not repeated, or you will have problems," ILNA reported.

Lenient Treatment?

Zahedi said Morteza Nurbakhsh, the university admissions chief at the Science Ministry, is a "pious...and godly person" who deals with students fairly. "We have been lenient in this respect compared to previous years, but the media have been exaggerating" and government opponents have "been exaggerating, which has upset me a little."

Zahedi said students with two stars by their names had "flaws" in their files, and he did not know what "three-star students" meant. He admitted, however, that some students have not been registered for the next semester because they had been disqualified by "the relevant authorities," which he said may include the Intelligence Ministry.

These students were presumably deemed troublesome. Zahedi said that he wants lively student formations in universities, but "student formations must act within the framework of disciplinary regulations, and students must know that they can mobilize society, so they must not become a base for parties."

Iranian conservatives have in the past stated their concern that students could become the pawns of political parties.
Ali Tajernia, a former legislator and member of the reformist Participation Front, told ILNA on January 12 that banning students from their courses was something that is unprecedented since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

When students "feel the danger of being [kept] from their studies," he said, universities lose their liveliness. Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi told a group of "starred" students on January 12 that he is surprised students had been banned from entry into graduate courses.

This type of exclusion, he said, happened in the 1980s against communist students at a time, he said, that was fraught with political and security tensions, ISNA reported. He said he would follow up their cases with "some officials" but admitted he was not familiar with the higher-education officials in President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government.

Repression Causing Opposition

A deputy minister of higher education recently warned against increasing student radicalism, prompting Mohammad Hashemi, a member of the Office to Consolidate Unity (DTV) to blame the "conduct of the Science Ministry in the past year and few months" for this, ILNA and reported on January 9.

"Radicalism in the student movement is caused by the ninth government's treatment of student activists and legal formations at universities," Hashemi said. He said that an "accumulation" of unsatisfied demands led frustrated and angry students to heckle Ahmadinejad at Amir Kabir University during his appearance there in December.

Amir Kabir University student Mehdi Saidipur told ISNA on January 12 that repression in universities may indeed foment radicalism. "If officials do not wish the atmosphere to move toward radicalism, they must permit and provide resources for the activity of critical students in the university," and banning student bodies will not eliminate "their ideas."

Participation member Ali Tajernia also blamed the government for student radicalism. He said "the Science Ministry's mistaken policies" are causing this and its actions show it has become "less tolerant" of student movements in general.

The DTV issued a statement on January 13 warning against what it described as the deteriorating state of universities, a brain drain, and the imposition of an "atmosphere of fear," ILNA reported.

It said officials have sought to stifle criticism against their failed policies, while the obligatory "retirement" of respected academics is intended to "cleanse" universities and pave the way for the appointment of staff sympathetic to Ahmadinejad's government.

RFE/RL Iran Report

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