Students Challenge Minister’s Claim That No One in Iran is Banned From University for Political Reasons
A student who was banned from pursuing a university education in Iran because he engaged in peaceful activism has spoken out against the science minister’s claim that “few” such cases exist.
“None of the starred students have political issues because politics is not criteria for accepting students,” said Science Minister Mansour Gholami at a technology exhibition on December 16, 2017. “We are trying to resolve the cases of the few students who are still facing issues.”
Majid Dorri and fellow banned student Mahdieh Golru held signs outside the Science Ministry for several days beginning on December 17, 2017, in protest against the minister’s statement.
“Ms. Golru and I discussed our issues with Science Ministry officials,” Dorri told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that day. “We said we want the minister to respond and give us a letter explaining why we have been deprived of education.”
“We want him to explain why at least 100 students have been banned this year,” added Dorri, who was imprisoned for his activism. “Why is this happening? We haven’t gotten a response from any of the officials. I will go back to the ministry and stand in protest.”
Since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, student activists have been denied higher education through various methods. During President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second term (2005-13), students accused of engaging in political activities received a star on their application, which blocks people from enrolling in Iranian universities.
During his first presidential campaign in 2013, President Hassan Rouhani promised to get rid of the star system introduced under Ahmadinejad. However, some students continue to be denied the ability to enroll in Iranian universities.
On November 30, 2017, the reformist newspaper Jame-e Farda reported that 150-200 graduate and PhD-level students were barred from enrolling in Iranian universities in the current academic year because they had stars on their records.
A student group has released a statement supporting Dorri and Golru’s protest.
“Mansour Gholami’s latest statements about starred students are an insult to everyone’s intelligence, especially students,” said the Allameh Tabataba’i University’s Islamic Students’ Society on December 17.
“If I repent, he has to repent, too”
Dorri told CHRI he has refused requests by the Science Ministry to repent for engaging in peaceful activism in exchange for being allowed to enroll in university.
“The Science Ministry has asked me to write a statement repenting for everything I allegedly did wrong,” he said. “They want me to express regret for advocating the right to education, which was one of Mr. Rouhani’s slogans during the election. If I repent, he has to repent, too.”
In July 2009, Dorri was expelled from Allameh Tabataba’i University in Tehran and sentenced to six and a half years in prison for advocating the reinstatement of expelled students. He was granted conditional release in June 2014.
“I only needed two more semesters to get my undergraduate degree when I was banned,” Dorri told CHRI. “I had an A average but they still would not take me back. I tried to get into other universities and they would not accept me either. I even tried to get a scholarship to study abroad but that failed, too.
He continued: “I have met many officials but the ban has not been lifted. Recently they have been more polite and they talk to me but nothing positive has happened. Before they would just say no, it’s impossible. Now they say they agree I should go back to university but no action has been taken.”
“Ten years after my expulsion from the university, I have decided to go to the Science Ministry to see what they think of me,” he said. “I just want them to tell me why. Why did they expel me? Are they proud of what they did? Fine; tell me in writing so I can understand.”
Dorri told CHRI he has been denied a meeting with Science Minister Gholami.
“I tried to see the minister but I was told that’s not possible. I was referred to the public relations office but I said I have no business with the public relations office. They know me here. I have written numerous letters.
He continued: “Then the guards showed up and said I have no right to be there. The Science Ministry’s security officials came, too, and one of them told me it seemed I was missing prison. He said I had one hour and after that, I would have to leave. I told him that I was missing university; I’m going to stay right here.”
On December 5, 2017, former Deputy Parliament Speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami told a student gathering at Tehran University that Rouhani should order the Intelligence Ministry to stop harassing students.
“We know there are limits to what you can do, Mr. President. We know you do not have full authority over security matters at universities. So we are patient. But what about these students who are being denied education by your Intelligence Ministry? Have they been convicted in court? If not, banning them is against the law,” said Khatami.
Some Iranians who were banned from enrolling in Iranian universities for political reasons have taken to social media to tell their stories.
“When I was getting my bachelors, I was warned many times not to engage in student activities. Now, whenever I ask for a copy of my degree from Qom University, they tell me it’s not ready because of ‘some issues,’ tweeted Sara Bagheri on December 16.
“I have until January 10 to hand in this document to get into my graduate program or else I will be expelled,” she added. “Let’s lie a little less!”
“I have been told many times that I will not be allowed to continue my graduate studies if I get into student activities [activism] again,” tweeted Navid Kalahroudi on December 16.
*Update on December 26, 2017: After this story was published, Science Minister Mansour Gholami promised Dorri his case would be investigated.
“The minister personally came down from his office and we had a conversation on the sidewalk,” Dorri told CHRI on December 20, 2017.
Continued Dorri: “The minister said he had only been in this job for 50 days and needed more time. I said I need to enroll in university for the new semester or I need an explanation in writing as to who is blocking us. He said it is my natural right to follow up on my case and said he would contact me in a week to 10 days.”
“I told the minister we have no grudge against him,” Dorri told CHRI. “We will stop our protest for two weeks but if our situation is not resolved, we will resume.”