By Arash Bahmani, Rooz Online
Protests at Azad University in Qazvin in December 2009. Banner says: "University Is Alive"
The Iranian calendar year turned into a new year on the first day of spring - March 20th - as it does every year. So this is a time of reflection on many issues and for many people in the country. For students and university professionals, this was the year when they witnessed unprecedented onslaught on the student movement and activities. But even though the battles between students and the establishment are not new, the situation is neither settled nor calm. Students have had to pay with greater costs for every change that has come about; they had been arrested, expelled, denied the right to continue or launch a university education, or have even been murdered.
The establishment’s confrontations with student activists and the judicial orders against them, the official closure of critical student organizations, and the narrowing of activity fields for students have resulted in the birth of new methods of confrontations. Today, a presence on Facebook can be viewed to be a crime, the efforts to identify Bahais and prevent them from getting higher education have grown, and the trend to deny the highest education levels to students who in the past had been active is on the rise. Women too last year were confronted with a discriminatory change that denied them access to many study fields and subjects.
At the same time, while some student activists who felt threatening pressure from authorities were forced to leave the country altogether, others set aside all student activities because of court orders while still others are serving prison time.
And as the tug of war between the establishment and the university and students continued, it was the latter who paid the price for striving to remain independent.
The pace and intensity of violating university rights was so great last year that UN’s special rapporteur on human rights conditions in Iran, Ahmad Shahid, devoted a whole section on this in his report on the country and named the presidents of two specific universities by name, Polytechnic University and Alame Tabatabai University.
Nowruz New Year Celebrations Behind Bars
Nowruz is always a time of joy for Iranians but this spring was yet another season without their loved ones. Some student activists such as Abdollah Momeni, Zia Nabavi, Majid Tavakoli, Majid Dori, Siavosh Hatam, Arash Sadeghi, Shabnam Madadzadeh, Ighan Shahidi, Habib Latifi, Omid Kokabi, Davar Hosseini-Vojdan, Hamed Roohinejhad, Fereidun Seydirad, Amir Garshasbi, Jamal Ghadernejad, Misagh Yazdannejad, Soroosh Sabet, Vahid Asghari, Saeed Jalalifar, and Yashar Darolshafa spent the turn of the year in prison.
A small group of student activists such as Mehdi Khodai, Emad Bahavar and Ali Akbar Mohammadzadeh were luckier and managed to get special leaves from prison and spent the new year with their families after years of being denied any leave.
Stars Over Universities
The practice of marking university student activists with stars which began in the first Ahmadinejad administration has now turned into a controversial debate. The government refrained from granting BA degrees to student activists despite their graduations, thus barring them from continuing their education. This practice continues despite a ruling by the government’s administrative court declaring the practice unlawful. The practice continued even after Ahmadinejad personally denied the practice during a televised interview in 2009.
Denial of access to higher education continued last year and in fact took new forms. In addition to reports by the ministry of science, the ministry of intelligence and other intelligence agencies, even the national educational testing center that conducts annual university placement and entrance examinations also joined the ranks in disqualifying students from continuing their education aspirations.
An example of such denials is the case of Roozbeh Hossein Tehrani. This student activist attained the sixteenth highest score in the national placement test last year but was denied admission to a university for the third consecutive year while his passing grade records were taken off the official Azad University website. The words “no such applicant” appeared for his name on the site.
Yazdan Mohammadbeighi is another student who passed the first test for a doctoral program and the subsequent two interviews but who was denied admission to a university after he was summoned by the ministry of intelligence and interrogated over his political and social activities.
Another event in this regard last year was the creation of a special disciplinary committee at the Shahr Kord University which issued warnings to students for “membership in Facebook.”
Seyed Ahmadi Hosseini, an MA student in Orumieh University was expelled from the university by an order of the disciplinary committee of the institution after he made a 2 minute speech in the Chamran auditorium of the school.
But these deprivations were not confined to student activists. Many students who followed the Bahai faith were also denied access to universities. The Bahai online university had been shut a few years earlier while some of the institution’s officers were arrested. These actions were taken by referencing a decision of the supreme council of the cultural revolution which specified that only individuals who belonged to the four religions specified in the constitution had the right to attend a university.
The group of students who had been denied higher education formed the “council for the defense of the right to education” did not envisage that they would bring forth such anger from the authorities.
A key member of this group seyed Ziaodin Nabavi, was himself arrested last May/June. He had been arrested earlier in 2007 and banned from higher education for two terms. And despite his high grades in the test for the MA program, he was denied admission. After spending 7 months in prison, he was sentenced to 15 years of prison. After this, the notion was spread that members of the council for the defense of the right to education had affiliations with the Mojahedin Khalq organization, an exiled opposition group.
Majid Dori is another member of the council who was arrested on July 9 last year and kept in Evin prison. He was sentenced to 11 years of prison, 10 of which were announced to be for cooperating with the Mojahedin Khalq organization. His sentence includes five years of exile in the town of Izeh. Other members of the group too have been arrested and sentenced, some of which have completed their sentences.
Former Student Activists Still Out of Favor
Such bans and punishments have not remained limited to current student activists. Some former activists continue to be held behind bars. Abdollah Momeni, the former head of the Daftare Tahkime Vahdat, the largest student organization in the country, and also the spokesperson of the student alumni association (Sazemane Advar Tahkim Vahdat) has been behind bars for years and was denied any leave last year. He was summoned to prison in 2011 where he has remained despite medical orders for the treatment of his illness. After returning to prison, Momeni wrote an open letter to the supreme leader of Iran describing the tortures he had been subjected to. According to his wife, this letter was the reason why prison authorities repeatedly denied his requests for a leave.
Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi is another former student activists who has been subjected to similar treatment. He too was resummoned to prison after being released. Ali Jamali is yet another former activists with similar circumstances, but he was ultimately released after serving his full term.
Ban on Teaching
The practice of retiring university teachers which began with Ahmadinejad’s first administration also continued last year. If in the past such university lecturers as Hossein Bashirie, Hadi Semati, Mojtahed Shabastari, Morteza Mardiha, and Mohammad Sarifar were forcefully retired, last year Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s daughter was added to the list of banned teachers.
Prior to this, former prime minister Mousavi himself had been barred from teaching. In addition, a number of other university professors who were deemed to be close to Mousavi too were barred. Not only these professors were not among dissident teachers prior to the 2009 presidential elections, but they were in fact among the staunchest supporters of the regime.
Last year’s arrest of 58 students, 21 expelled or barred students from continuing their higher education and the forced retirees demonstrate that the university continues to be the target of harshest policies of the Islamic republic.
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