In Their Own Words: Interviews with Students
Students who were deprived from education, whether starred, expelled, or among those who passed the entrance exam but were not allowed to register, told the Campaign that no procedures or independent bodies exist to allow those deprived of education to seek remedies for their grievances. These students reported appealing to university officials, the Ministry of Science, the Judiciary, professors, the media, and members of Parliament for assistance in regaining admittance into university to no avail.
As Sadegh Shojaii, a student deprived of education, told the Campaign:
The Ministry of Science said, ‘What is happening at Allameh University is illegal, but it is not within our ability to stop it.’ The Judiciary no longer accepted our objections after March 2008, based on the resolution from the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. Publicity, sit-ins in front of the Ministry of Science, Parliament, IRIB [state broadcasting organization], the university, etc…[were all fruitless].
In general, the reasons provided by authorities include vague and routine charges, such as procedural rules, including denying admissions to students who propagate against the regime and work in favor of anti-regime groups. This was the excuse given in my own case during my multiple suspensions that led to the discontinuation of my education.51
Zohreh Asadpour, who has been kept from entering graduate school since 2008, first by the Ministry of Science and later by Azad University, emphasized that:
The procedures to object to decisions to deprive students from education are very complicated.
The road to objecting to the decision to deprive me from education has been a winding one, from pursuing the case inside ministries and universities and the hallways of Parliament, to press conferences and gatherings on the street. A few starred students have been successful in returning to universities after submitting recognizance letters, stating that they would stop their political activities, but most were too hated by authorities to be allowed to return to university.52
Repeatedly, students who spoke to the Campaign said their expulsion or rejection from university was through the interference of the Ministry of Intelligence, with the cooperation of university and Ministry of Science officials. Some students cited the Ministry of Intelligence’s involvement as an obstacle to seeking redress for their deprivation of education. Students also reported being threatened, intimidated, arrested, and imprisoned by the Ministry of Intelligence if any objections were raised to screening and expulsion practices.
Puyan Mahmudian, who was barred from graduate school, described his efforts to seek recourse:
I, for one, pushed very hard for this, through members of Parliament, through the Supreme Leader’s University Representative Office, through the Sanjesh Organization authorities, etc., but I didn’t accomplish anything. At the Parliament’s Education and Research Committee, and through help from Dr. Abbaspour, a file was opened for starred students. What was interesting was that representatives from the Ministry of Intelligence refused to attend the sessions, so that file never got anywhere.
Basically, there are no legal venues for objections. When the highest judicial authority in the country, the High Court, shrugs off responsibility, there is no place else to go. The problem is that the Sanjesh Organization does not accept responsibility, either, saying that the decisions have been the Ministry of Intelligence’s call, and that objectors must gain the Ministry’s satisfaction and agreement. But there are no defined ways for contacting the Ministry of Intelligence to submit an objection.53
Generally, after a while, the reply was something like this–they expressed regret and sadness that a student with my kind of high ranking was starred. First, they promised to follow up. After a while they would say, ‘We tried, the issue is a Ministry of Intelligence issue. The Ministry of Intelligence is insisting on your case.’ I tried very hard to obtain a written notice regarding my deprivation from education but authorities never submitted any such documentation…at the end they made a friendly recommendation to leave the country to pursue higher education abroad.54
Most students who spoke to the Campaign appealed or were referred first to the Ministry of Science, including its subdivisions, the Sanjesh Organization and Central Selection Committee. Ministry officials sometimes expressed regret for the students’ predicament and claimed the matter would be resolved, but often the Ministry took no discernible action. After the Ministry of Science failed to address student’s complaints of expulsion and exclusion from universities, many students took their cases elsewhere, particularly appealing to members of Parliament for assistance.
Sona Gholinejad, another barred student who was dismissed from university for being a Baha’i, when asked whether she had protested her expulsion and education ban said:
Yes, very much. And six months later, I am still pursuing the matter. I went to the Ministry of Science three times, in March, May, and June. I went to the Sanjesh Organization in March. I went several times to the Sari member of Parliament’s Office and 20 times to the university to see the Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor, three members of the University Security Unit, Admissions, the Supreme Leader’s Office in the University, a cleric, the Vice Chairman of the department, the department Chairman…I even talked to the professors. They did not give me any documents to show the reasons for my dismissal. The member of Parliament, however, wrote in his letter to the University Chancellor: ‘Sona Gholinejad… has been expelled from university…I request her readmission to the University to continue her education.’55
A source close to Saeed Moradi, a 2009-2010 graduate admission applicant who was deprived from education this year, told the Campaign:
After Saeed went to the Sanjesh Organization, he was told that he had security problems and that security organizations had replied negatively about his admission. He was told his case was under review at the appeals level. Unfortunately, after making seven or eight in-person inquiries and having a meeting with Morteza Noorbakhsh, Head of the Sanjesh Organization’s Selection Committee, he has not yet received a definitive reply. Additionally, Saeed went to the Iranian Parliament to object to and pursue the matter. He met with Mr. Ali Zanjani, a member of Parliament from Naghadeh, and Mr. Javad Jahangirzadeh, a member of Parliament from Oroumiyeh, and they both promised to help him. The Oroumiyeh Parliament member sent a letter to the Ministry of Science’s Security Office. None of these objections, follow-ups, and efforts, however, have had any results.56
Sepehr Atefi, a Baha’i deprived from entering university, told the Campaign about his attempts to see his education deprivation reversed:
I went to the Sanjesh Organization personally, and wrote letters to the President, the Parliament’s Article 90 Commission,57 the Ministry of Science, the Sanjesh Organization, Isfahan’s Friday Imam, the Administrative Court, members of Parliament representing Isfahan, and all organizations I thought might somehow be related to my deprivation of education or who might be able to do something in this regard. Unfortunately, no organization was accountable. Some only expressed their regret, and other said there was nothing they could do.
After these efforts failed to achieve results, my friends and tried to take the issue to the media, and we asked international organizations for assistance, but we were unable to achieve our main objective of enabling the barred Baha’i students to enter the universities.58
Rahil Mehdizadeh, who was barred from entering university in 2005, 2006, and 2007 because he is a Baha’i, told the Campaign:
After seeing the national entrance exam results every year, I would go to the Sanjesh Organization offices in Karaj, and ask to talk to the head. Each time, either they wouldn’t let me see him, or eventually they would allow me to see his Deputy. I kept going to have meetings with members of Parliament to present my problem. I even wrote multiple letters to related authorities, demanding equal rights for everyone in higher education. None of these actions resulted in anything.59
Soroush Sabet is a banned student who described his efforts to pursue his rights with government organizations:
I first presented my objection to the Sanjesh Organization. They said they would respond in writing in about two weeks. After I didn’t receive their reply in the promised time, I started talking about the situation, and at least I was able to get the attention of authorities. After that I went to the Selection Center of the Sanjesh Organization. They stated their regrets [about the situation] and promised to help me, but nothing came of it. Then, along with a few other barred students, we went to Parliament and we met with a group of Parliament members, such as Mr. Abbaspour, Head of Education Commission. He took down our information, but nothing came of that, either. We even spoke with Mr. Ahmad Tavakoli at Parliament. He was aware of my case. He said that he had talked about me with the authorities, but while he expressed his regrets, he said that he had no power to help in this area.
What is expected based on justice and equal treatment is that everyone should have equal access to education and ability to continue their higher education as far as they wish and qualify for. If today equal access based on various factors is not available, the least we expect is that those who have proven themselves academically should not be prevented from continuing their education… ‘Deprived of Education’ today means that political organs are interfering in academic processes, disturbing their balance, and that the reasoning of intelligence and security organs are trumping academic logic.60
Ali Gholizadeh reported being able to appeal to as high an authority as the Minister of Science himself, Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, to no avail:
We went to the Sanjesh Organization, Azad University’s Testing Center, the Parliament, and other organizations several times. I even met with Zahedi, Kamran Daneshjoo, and several other Deputy Ministers. Most of the authorities shrugged off the responsibility in their meetings with us, attributing the issue to other individuals and organizations. During an unplanned meeting I had with Mr. Zahedi at the Parliament, he promised that our problems would be resolved over the next few days, but nothing ever happened. The responsibility of starring the students lies with the cabinet and Azad University. In a way, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Jasbi [chancellor of Azad University] are directly responsible for this educational apartheid, even though Azad University officials and Mr. Jasbi himself have announced several times that they have had to agree to starring student activists under pressure from the cabinet. But this does not excuse the gentlemen of their responsibilities.61
Another group of twenty students who were barred from education wrote a letter to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani in October 2009 appealing for assistance. The letter said:
One-and-a-half months after the graduate entrance examination results were announced, in which several student activities were ‘starred,’ authorities either deny or shrug off responsibility about it. The barred-from-education students are continually sent [back and forth] among related or unrelated organizations. However, so far, and after numerous inquiries, we have not achieved any results. Even the promises and orders made by Messrs. Zahedi, Daneshjoo, Pourabbas, and Abbaspour for resolving the issue of ‘starred students,’ promised in face-to-face meetings or during interviews with official news agencies and after our repeated inquiries, have not yet led to the registration of students who have been deprived from continuing their education at universities which have admitted them.62
Some students sought judicial redress. A source close to Saeed Moradi, a barred law student at Gilan University, told the Campaign:
Saeed went to the Administrative Court to file a complaint against the Sanjesh Organization. Not only did the Court refuse to receive his complaint, he was told that the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution had barred the administrative court from reviewing such cases. Peyman Aref is a friend of Saeed’s from when the two worked at Mehdi Karroubi’s presidential election campaign headquarters in Gilan. Aref received a ruling from the Administrative Court in 2007 to resume his education. The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution wrote a strongly-worded letter to the Administrative Court, barring it from entering the domain of barred-from-education students.63
Mehrdad Islamkhah described such a case:
In 2007, several students, including Peyman Aref, filed a complaint with the Administrative Court. The Court ruled for the continuation of their education. Unbelievably, though, Tehran University refused to honor the ruling and they couldn’t continue their education. My arrest in 2007 was due to the press reports about my deprivation, and for the interviews I did with the media.64
Asu Saleh, a student who was deprived from education by the Disciplinary Committee, found no recourse through the Committee’s appeal process:
They refused to give any answers and each member of the Disciplinary Committee blamed the other. I objected to the ruling and was served the decision regarding the appeal, and this is how the earlier decision was upheld without any changes.”65
In fact, except for the Supreme Leader’s agents in the university, no other institution or person would defend the issued ruling. So in this way, I was assured that this verdict was issued by the Supreme Leader’s Organization at the University. Before this, I had my differences with this organization. These disputes continued even after this happened. The Supreme Leader’s Organization at Kurdistan University wrote a letter to the Kurdish Student’s website,66 for which I was responsible, denying all my statements.
Negin Sayyahi, a student who reported being expelled from Sari University for being a Baha’i, said:
I went to the Registrar’s Office at my university. The person in charge asked for my student ID number. When he punched in the number, he told me ‘you made a mistake!’ because my file didn’t open. Then he entered my name and last name. He got the message ‘you are not allowed to enroll for classes.’ I had my class enrollment sheet with me. He said, ‘There is a problem with your registration. You must go to Mr. Akbari. He is the liaison between the Registrar’s Office and the Security Office.’ When Akbari asked for my student ID number and entered it on his computer, he said, ‘You have a security issue. You must go to Mr. Saranjam.’ Mr. Saranjam had nothing to do with this issue. I told Mr. Saranjam the story. First, he didn’t show any reaction, he was laughing. After he entered my student ID number, he said, ‘The person in charge of this issue is Mr. Erfani, Head of the University Security Office.’ After a while, when Mr. Erfani came, he said ‘your issue is related to Dr. Fazlollah.” This was the man who had deleted Sona’s [Gholinejad] course choices. He came to me and told me that my issue is a security issue. The last time I went to the Security Office, Mr. Akbari gave me the address for the Sanjesh Organization, without saying anything. I asked him, ‘Is it an ideological issue?’ and he said, ‘Unfortunately, yes.’ This happened on 10 May.
The authorities’ reaction, without exception, was to say, ‘We are employees and must carry out orders.’ When I asked to see my file, they said, ‘We have been ordered not to provide any documents, not even one piece of writing.’ But the professors treated us appropriately. There were courses for which I needed grades. They were willing to give me my tests, especially my Statistics and Probability professor who said, ‘Education is your human right.’ This individual was present at the Wahabi Conference, and afterwards asked me several times he asked me whether I had faced problems with my dismissal. He was always concerned and caring.69
The barring and expulsion of students activists and Baha’is not only affects the student in question but also has repercussions on their families. Many parents often become involved in their children’s cases.
Sayyahi described her mother’s efforts to help her seek recourse:
My mother and I did a lot. We went to the university Security Office several times. My mother met with the Provincial and Local Governor’s Offices. We hired a lawyer and met with Mr. Shojaee, a member of Parliament. He wrote us two letters, one addressed to the University Chancellor and the other to the Minister of Science, Research, and Technology, Mr. Daneshjoo. My mother and I met with the University Chancellor. He did not treat us well. He said, ‘We will implement justice. You deserved to be dismissed.’ My mother’s voice was rising. She told him that he was treating people unfairly because of his position. I told my mother to try and understand that if he sided with us, he would lose his livelihood. Our discussion lasted about half an hour, but we didn’t reach any particular conclusions.70
The mothers of other starred students wrote a letter to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2007, objecting to the decision to ban their children from education. They complained about “a lack of attention to the situation of starred students,” and demanded Ahmadinejad’s personal attention to the matter. In their letter, dated 3 March 2007 the mothers wrote:
They tell us, your children are hostile with the regime and security organizations do not approve of their continued education. No one explains to us and our children when and through which actions they have been hostile to a regime in whose creation we, too, have had a share. Why should the right to continue one’s education be taken away from academic youth who have never been involved in any student activities? Or those who have had legal and well-identified student activities for which they have never been found guilty in any disciplinary or judicial courts? And even if they have been found guilty, they have never been hostile to the regime? Would the Islamic Republic’s security face a crisis if those in charge do not deprive a group of gifted and hard-working Iranian youth from their deserved chance to continue their education? Or would it conversely aid them and their families to be more hopeful? Which religious and humane order would accept that the fate, nerves, and feelings of a group of young people and their families be mocked liked this and for the deserving students to be deprived of continuing their education due to differences in taste?71
This letter was signed by Jina Hassanpour, mother or Saeed Ardeshiri; Soghra Shakeri, mother of Mehdi Aminzadeh; Nosrat Azizi, mother of Mohammad Shooresh Moradi; Salimeh Fotoohi, mother of Hannan Azizi Banitorof; Zahra Ghasemi, mother of Hamed Hassandoust; Mehri Kafi Ahmadabadi, mother of Mohsen Fatehi; Azemat Golrokh, mother of Zahra Janipour; Sobieh Mohammadzadeh, mother of Salar Saket; Mahnaz Modaberi, mother of Peyman Aref; Mansoureh Movafaghi, mother of Siamak Karimi; and Sedigheh Noghrehi, mother of Farhad Zatalifar. A copy of the letter was sent to the office of Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, former Minister of Science, Research, and Technology, and the office of Morteza Nourbakhsh, Head of the Central Committee for the Selection of Faculty and Students.