Rouhani Facing Widespread Outrage as Student Protesters Remain Behind Bars and Receive Harsh Sentences
120 Academics in Iran Call on Rouhani to Immediately Suspend Judicial Cases against More than 150 Students
July 17, 2018—In a stark display of societal outrage in Iran over President Hassan Rouhani’s complicity in rights violations, 120 academics from universities across Iran, some of whom are also current or former lawmakers and cabinet members, have called on the president to order the immediate suspension of the judicial cases against more than 150 students who are still in detention for their participation in the December 2017 – January 2018 protests.
The vast majority of the students were arrested by Rouhani’s Ministry of Intelligence, which under his watch has become one of Iran’s major human rights violators.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) urges the authorities in Iran to immediately release all of the students and others arrested for the peaceful expression of dissent, and calls on President Rouhani to use his authority over the Ministry of Intelligence to rein in its members and stop the abuses being routinely committed by this body.
“Rouhani says people are free to protest, but over 150 students have been behind bars in Iran for over six months for doing just that—and most of them were arrested by his Intelligence Ministry,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director.
“Rouhani’s silence at the continued detention of these students betrays the hypocrisy of his words,” Ghaemi added.
In the letter, the academics urged Rouhani “to take steps in support of students and carry out your duties and pledges to safeguard people’s rights and defend students’ space to criticize.”
The letter continued, “Given that your government’s Intelligence Ministry is responsible for arresting many of the students, and in accordance with your duties as the chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, we urge you to immediately issue an order to completely suspend the judicial cases against the students.”
Iranian Member of Parliament Parvaneh Salahshouri, a reformist lawmaker, said in an interview with the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on July 10, 2018, “A list has been put together of the students detained in the December 2017 incidents and they number more than 150.” She told ILNA that 17 students had so far been sentenced to prison terms.
The latest sentences were issued on July 10 as the Appeals Court in Tabriz, East Azerbaijan Province, upheld a two-year sentence against Roya Saghiri and a six-month prison term for Ali Ghadiri.
In a joint statement published in July 2018, more than 60 student organizations from universities across Iran sharply criticized President Rouhani for the crackdown on students led by his Intelligence Ministry.
“Dr. Rouhani’s ‘moderate’ government has not only failed to defend the students but evidently his Intelligence Ministry is involved in their arrest and prosecution,” said the student organizations.
On Students Day, December 2, 2017, Rouhani said, “You have the right to criticize the government and the president. This is the right of all people. You cannot have a university without criticism. We must speak, criticize and find solutions,” and on December 2017, as nationwide protests against the government’s economic policies and political oppression erupted in the country, Rouhani said, “According to the constitution and citizens’ rights, people are free to express their criticism and protest.”
However, Rouhani has remained silent on the continued detainment of the student protesters and the harsh sentences issued to them that have been accumulating in recent weeks.
The academics’ open letter to Rouhani, published on July 16, 2018, is re-printed here in its entirety:
In recent months, especially since the protests in the month of Dey (December 22, 2017 – January 20, 2018), the security forces have arrested groups of students throughout the country. These arrests, and the reported heavy sentences against the students, have prompted us to remind you, as President and Chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, of a number of points you repeatedly declared in front of students in universities last year during your presidential campaign speeches — speeches that also inspired many of our colleagues to support your candidacy.
It appears that most of the detained students have participated in previous legal activities and may have criticized the performance of your government regarding universities. This matter has raised suspicions that some are trying to silence dissent in universities, which would undoubtedly be harmful to the future of the country.
Therefore, as the country’s university academics, we once again declare that we want the universities to be ‘safe but not secure’ and urge you to take steps in support of students and carry out your duties and pledges to safeguard people’s rights and defend students’ space to criticize.
Given that your government’s Intelligence Ministry is responsible for arresting many of the students, and in accordance with your duties as the chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, we urge you to immediately issue an order to completely suspend the judicial cases against the students.