In Their Own Words: Interviews with Students
Barring Student Activists
Similar to Mahmoudian, Eliasi, and Jalili, students who have participated in political and campus-based activism were barred by the Ministry of Science from enrolling in university or continuing their education. The Campaign documented 215 cases, either through interviews or secondary sources, where the Ministry of Science, often at the behest of the Ministry of Intelligence, reportedly barred students for their activism. Some of these students were involved in activism critical the government’s social and political policies while others concentrate largely on campus related issues.
An anonymous student activist at Isfahan University told the Campaign that although they had no history of being summoned to the University Disciplinary Committee or the local Intelligence Office, “At the time of announcing the results of entrance exams and registration period, my records were not released and I was told my file was ‘incomplete.’”18
The source described their activities prior to being banned:
In 2007, we had a series of student activities at Isfahan University. After a while, all the guys involved with the issue were summoned one by one, either to Isfahan Intelligence [Office], or to the Disciplinary Committee. But I wasn’t summoned anywhere, and I didn’t go anywhere either. I didn’t have any more activities after that. This year, when the time came to publish the results of graduate admission exams, they didn’t issue my report card, saying that my file was incomplete.
I went to the Sanjesh Organization, the university security office, and the Ministry of Intelligence’s offices in Isfahan, and they told me that the reason for the decision in my case was my student activities, as well as participating in dormitory protests.19
The Ministry of Science barred Zohreh Asadpour, a physics undergraduate student at Gilan University, from continuing her education in 2007 despite Asadpour’s qualifying exam score. Then in 2009, the Admissions Office of Azad University, a private university, barred Asadpour from admission. Asadpour claims that her activism for eliminating discrimination against women caused her to be banned.20 Asadpour said that several other women’s rights activists including Somayeh Rashidi and Leila Sehat were also deprived from education due to their women’s rights activism, particularly their efforts on behalf of the “One Million Signatures Campaign for Gender Equality.”21
During the 2009-2010 school year, authorities accelerated their politically motivated targeting of student activists, by denying admission to individuals who had participated in mass protests following the disputed 2009 presidential election. Amongst these students, Arman Sedaghati, Amir Jahangirir, Mansour Shakian, Mohammad Amin Shirzad, Hamed Ghazanfari, Khalil-al-rahman Khalilpour, and Somaneh Navab were students at Tehran’s elite Amirkabir University who passed the graduate level entrance exam. An anonymous Amirkabir student told the Campaign they were starred by the Ministry of Science and barred from further higher education. According to these recently barred students, new starring cases mostly affect those who participated in post-election protests.
A considerable number of students at Tehran’s Amirkabir University, including Hamed Ghazanfari, Arman Sedaghati, Mohammad Amin Shirzad, Amir Jahangiri, Mansour Shakerian, Khalilolrahman Khalilpour, and Samaneh Navvab, who had taken the graduate entrance examination in 2010, were rejected due to “incomplete files.” Some of the students who were kept from attending the University spoke with the Campaign on conditions of anonymity:
The number of starred students at Amirkabir University is very high this year. Of course, the Central Selection Committee and the Sanjesh Organization of the Ministry of Science are using the term ‘incomplete file’ instead of ‘starred student’ this year. Almost all students who faced this situation this year have gone to the Sanjesh Organization. Some of the students were asked to sign letters of recognizance and have been allowed to register conditionally. Some of the students have been referred to the Ministry of Intelligence by the Central Selection Committee, asking them to resolve their selection issues with the Ministry of Education. Several students have been completely barred from education, and authorities from the Sanjesh Organization and the Ministry of Science’s Central Selection Committee have told them verbally that they are not allowed to attend graduate school.
Ali Gholizadeh, is a starred student who was arrested at his father’s home in Mashad on 5 November 2010. Gholizadeh is the former Secretary of Shahroud Islamic Association and a current member of the General Council of Daftar Tahkim-e Vahdat Student Union.22
He was arrested by the Mashad Intelligence Office on 7 July 2008, due to his student activities, and spent some time inside the city’s Intelligence Office Detention Center. In 2009, Gholizadeh was barred from attending graduate school on orders from the Ministry of Intelligence.23
Some time before his arrest, Gholizadeh gave his summary of the government’s targeting of activists through starring students:
They wouldn’t tell us in writing that we have been deprived from education; therefore the exact reason for our education ban is not clear to us, but, generally, any kind of student activities, whether activities in the Islamic Associations, political groups, guild councils, and cultural/artistic societies have led to students becoming starred.
Members of [the pro-government] Student Basij and the Islamic Society are the only two groups of student activists who are allowed to continue their education. This year, most of the starred students did not even have one sheet of paper in their disciplinary files. Starting this year, [prior] activities in the candidate headquarters for presidential election has also caused a deprivation of the basic right to education! Likewise, women’s rights activists have also been added to the list of ‘starred students.’24
Multiple Suspensions and Disciplinary Committees
Some student activists, after being accepted and attending university, were summoned by university Disciplinary Committees, and were suspended for academic semesters because of activism. In practice, these students were systematically targeted and suspended for multiple terms thereby resulting in de facto expulsions from university for not completing degree requirements in time. For these students, Disciplinary Committees rather than the admissions process is the mechanism for their deprivation from education.
Mehrdad Islamkhah is a student barred from higher education. He described to the Campaign the events that culminated in his being forced to discontinue his studies:
A student is usually summoned to the Disciplinary Committee and during a process resembling a trial, if the student is sentenced to suspension, notice is sent to him/her in writing, and that student cannot continue their education for the period of suspension. There are also exceptions where there is no process and the suspension is simply verbally conveyed. That was my case and only months later I received a written notice.25
Islamkhah believes he was barred from his education at Imam Hossein University due to his student activities. He told the Campaign:
In 2005, I was the founding member and spokesperson for the Student Guild Association for Tuition-Paying Students. I am a tuition-paying undergraduate electrical engineering student at Imam Hossein University. I entered University in 2005. I was first blocked from enrollment for one term in 2006. Since then, my suspension has been renewed every year. If I am barred again this year, I will be expelled because I will not have completed my coursework within the required number of years.26
Some students who advocate on behalf of barred and suspended students have themselves been suspended. In 2007, Sadegh Shojaii, Mahdieh Golroo, Zia Nabavi, and Saeed Feyzallah, of Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, were suspended or prevented from continuing their education after organizing activities in support of barred students.
Shojaii told the Campaign:
From the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year, I started to organize elections for the Islamic Student Association at the university. The University Chancellor and his administration refused to recognize these elections and I was subsequently suspended for one semester. At the end of this suspension period I was again suspended, this time for two semesters. This took place even though I was barred from entering the campus during the first semester of suspension and had no presence there. The reason for my second suspension was my advocacy on behalf of barred students as well as my determination to keep the election results of the students association valid.27
Shojaii told the Campaign that his case underwent four stages: he was summoned to the Disciplinary Committee and interrogated; a hearing was held by the Committee; a preliminary ruling was issued; and he was eventually deprived of his right to education because he appealed and protested the ruling.28
At the time of Shojaii’s suspension, university wide suspensions totaled nearly 50 semesters. Shojaii protested these suspensions in his capacity as the secretary-elect of the Islamic Student Association.29
Shojaii told the Campaign that it had become clear to him, and other students in his position, that authorities would renew suspensions under different pretenses, thereby making completion of degrees impossible. “We started a sit-in around the clock, day and night, which, after three days ended with our detention,” he told the Campaign.30
According to Shojaii, protestors only demanded that university officials issue “a written guarantee for registration during the next semester,” after their two suspension terms ended. He noted that in his own case, he only had 19 units, equivalent to one semester, of course work to graduate. However, after being released from detention, he was again summoned to the Disciplinary Committee and suspended for one more semester.31
Other students have been suspended simply for criticizing university officials and exercising their freedom of expression. Asu Saleh, a student at Kurdistan University in the city of Sanandaj, was originally summoned to the Disciplinary Committee in 2006 because of his criticism of officials in a student publication. He was temporarily suspended. When he filed a complaint with the Kurdistan Judiciary, not only was his suspension confirmed, but the court issued a sentence denying him the right to continue his higher education completely.32
Saleh explained the process of being barred from further education as a punishment for his student activism to hold university officials accountable:
I was the secretary of the research and cultural center ‘Hezhan,’ and at the same time served as the publisher and managing editor of the student weekly Dang at Kurdistan University. In an assembly of various student organizations and associations in May 2006, I was announced as its organizer. Alongside this event, a question and answer session was held at the University in which I expressed several criticisms of university administrators and government officials. Following this session, I was summoned to the Disciplinary Committee on 19 June 2006, and subsequently deprived of continuing my education.
On 10 July 2006, I received a written ruling that was issued by the Disciplinary Committee. I was charged with: insulting university officials, insulting Hejab (Islamic clothing) and students who wear it, propagating falsehoods, and disturbing or stopping university programs and order. I was subsequently suspended for three semesters based on this ruling.33
A student who wished to remain anonymous explained that his own process of being deprived from education stemmed from his activities in exercising his right to free speech on a university campus:
In September 2006, I was suspended for one semester for the specific reason of holding an open microphone event in defense of political prisoners, particularly in defense of Akbar Ganji who had been physically abused in prison. Subsequently, I was barred from even entering the campus. In March 2006, I was summoned to the Disciplinary Committee regarding my activities during the previous spring semester, which included sit-ins, gatherings, and open microphone sessions. This time I was suspended for another two semesters.
By suspending undergraduate students multiple times and for several semesters, officials at the Ministry of Science effectively make it impossible for affected students to finish their course requirements within the six year time frame allotted for undergraduates, thereby preventing them from completing their degree and advancing to graduate school.
An Amirkabir University activist who requested anonymity told the Campaign that the university Disciplinary Committee barred him from continuing his education at the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year due to his student activities:
In March 2006, I was summoned to the Disciplinary Committee for my activities since spring 2005: organizing gatherings, sit-ins, and helping produce free publications. My ruling was finalized in spring 2006. I was barred for the second term of 2006-2007, and the first term of the 2007-2008 academic years The reason the decision was upheld was the continuation of my activities in the spring of 2007, especially after what happened following the publication of fake newspapers at Amirkabir.34
Each time I was summoned to the Disciplinary Committee I defended myself, but the Committee members, whose identities we never knew, without regard for any defense, made their rulings based on decisions dictated from above. The Disciplinary Committee would serve the initial ruling to us. We would object, and after a while, the ruling was upheld. During this process, many articles from the Students Disciplinary Procedures would be violated. We always objected, but it never had any effect.
Mahdieh Golroo, an Allameh Tabatabai University student in Tehran and currently in prison, was barred from education in 2007. Golroo was arrested that year, and again in 2008. She believes her education ban to be the result of her student and civic activities.35
During the first meeting of the Right to Education Council in 2008, Golroo pointed out that a large part of the students’ deprivation from education stems from the activities of Disciplinary Committees. Golroo pointed out that Disciplinary Committees were established by the Ministry of Science during the administration of Mohammad Khatami, between 1997 and 2005. As part of the greater socio-political reforms of that era, Disciplinary Committees were designed to “ensure that students would not be taken to a police station or the Intelligence Ministry if and when a small issue occurs on campus.” They were established “to solve the students’ problems inside the university so that students would never have to set foot inside those places,” Golroo said.36>
However, Golroo emphasized that when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power, his cabinet used the Disciplinary Committees against students critical of official policy. She says that they are now used for depriving those students from their right to education. Describing the current state of affairs inside Iranian universities, Golroo, during the first meeting of the Right to Education Council on 18 October 2008, said:
Today we have the situation where [being involved with] the Disciplinary Committee has become so arduous for students that many students, even myself, are willing to go to prison for a whole year, but be able to resume our studies. I only have 15 units left before graduating, [but technically] I am just a high school graduate now. In this country, everyone knows how hard it has been for us to be admitted to public universities to not have to pay tuition and how hard we worked in order to pass the entrance examination. Now we have reached the point where after studying for four years, we have nothing, we are just high school graduates. Another example of [what happens with] barred education is our friends at the [Amirkabir] Polytechnic University.37 Today I asked after our Polytechnic friends who have been released recently. Their friends said these guys have only been able to enroll conditionally. They were told by the University that they each had three terms of unexcused absence.38
The other issue is the process of frequent suspensions at Allameh University. Suspensions become so frequent and take so long that when combined with the length of the student’s education, the student is expelled on the grounds of having taken too long to complete his/her education, like myself. In fact, inside Iranian universities today, criticism equals being barred from education. As our lawyer, Mr. Oliaifard said, this process is against the law.
The other issue is the tight cooperation between the Ministry of Science and the Intelligence Ministry. In fact, you could say that the Ministry of Science has turned into a second Intelligence Ministry in the Islamic Republic.”39
The arrests taking place all over the country are made with the Ministry of Science’s 100 percent cooperation. When the Ministry of Science sees that they cannot stop the students [from participating in campus activism] with education bans, they go to the Intelligence Ministry, hoping that they would stop them through imprisonment.”40