Iranian authorities use a variety of means to punish students and academics for their perceived dissenting views and activities, as part of their all-out assault on academic freedom. One method is the use of a system of assigning stars, from one to three, by the Iranian Ministry of Science, Technology and Research together with the Ministry of Intelligence.
Students assigned these stars are excluded from participation in higher education solely because of their political activities or beliefs or their assumed political beliefs. Students banned from study because of their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are deprived of their right to education as guaranteed by Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Iran is a state party.
Illegal teachers’ associations
Other methods include the imposition of harsh prison sentences on student activists and scholars, the harassment and detention of teachers for involvement in teachers’ associations, and the expulsion or hounding of academics from their university positions. Meanwhile, members of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority are systematically excluded from higher education and female students encounter restrictions on their ability to enroll in certain degree programs in which the government wants to limit their representation.
Iranian authorities have created a system whereby only those who pass their litmus test of acceptability are entitled to participate in higher education. Denial of access to higher education is a powerful weapon used to enforce ideological conformity. Those who fail to comply, face a life of dashed dreams and greatly diminished professional and economic opportunities, or else they have been compelled to join the vast brain drain of Iranians who have left their country.
Long sentences in prison
As Amnesty International’s new report will make clear, the scope of the situation is sobering. In the past few years many hundreds of students have been banned from further study solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly by expressing their opinions, participating in demonstrations, or membership of an independent student organization critical of government policies.
Dozens of student and alumni association activists, including Majid Tavakkoli, Bahareh Hedayat and Zia Nabavi, are currently serving long sentences in prisons notorious for their squalid and overcrowded conditions. Many of the healthy young people who enter these prisons develop serious and chronic health problems and do not receive proper medical care, nor are they granted the medical furloughs that are permitted by Iranian law.
Many disciplines off-limits
The Iranian authorities have dismissed over one hundred academics from their posts since the 2009 election on the basis of their political views or expressing dissenting opinions. [i] The Ministry of Science, Technology, and Research declared the country’s largest independent students’ association, Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat, an “illegal” union in 2009, on grounds that it “engaged in activities that endangered national security.”
Furthermore, independent teachers’ associations were banned by the Ministry of the Interior in 2007 following the nationwide strike by teachers protesting against their conditions of employment.
As they eject or exclude large numbers of students and scholars from institutions, the authorities also seek to impede the independent pursuit of knowledge and lines of inquiry by ordaining that large swaths of academic disciplines are off limits.
Humanities especially threathening
For instance teaching and conducting research in the humanities and social sciences have been restricted because they allegedly generate attitudes that are considered to be insidious and even subversive by Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Amnesty International is looking forward to working together with concerned activists, academics, institutions of higher education and partner organizations to shine a light on the widespread persecution of students and academics and to urge the Iranian authorities to comply with the international treaties and covenants guaranteeing freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas that they have pledged to uphold.
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