Iran Sets Stage for More Crackdowns on University Students’ Online Activities
University students in Iran could be punished for engaging in online activities deemed by the government as “unethical” following the passage of an amendment to the Islamic Republic’s academic disciplinary regulations.
“Publishing unethical photos or committing immoral acts in cyberspace and on information-sharing networks will result in disciplinary action against students,” said Jamasb Nozari, director of the state-run Academic Affairs Organization, in an interview with the state-funded Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on April 26, 2019.
The amendment was passed by the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council’s Committee for the Islamization of Universities on April 21, 2019.
The new rule does not define what is and isn’t “unethical,” giving the authorities free rein to make arbitrary decisions.
“The addition of cyberspace violations to the disciplinary rules not only interferes in students’ privacy but also undermines their independence and freedom,” tweeted Danial Eslamipanah, the deputy chairman of the Union of Political Organizations at Islamic Azad Universities.
“Worse still, it opens the possibility of arbitrary disciplinary decisions and false accusations,” he added.
The internet and social media apps in Iran, as well as online user activity, are heavily censored and monitored by the government, so it’s not clear what prompted an amendment specifically targeting university students.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has documented cases of students at Iranian universities, historically hotbeds of political activism, being prosecuted for the content of their peaceful online postings.
Three months earlier, on January 15, the disciplinary committee of the Babol Noshirvani University of Technology suspended an unknown number of students for one semester for posting personal photos from a family gathering on their Facebook pages.
Activists Condemn Restriction of Students’ Internet Freedom
Following news of the amendment, some activists took to social media to condemn the government’s ongoing crackdown on university students’ online activities.
“In 2012 hardliners reported students who had posted personal photos from camping trips, leisure activities and parties on Facebook and the students were illegally summoned and warned for not wearing headscarves in the photos. Imagine what they will do now that there’s a law against it,” she said.
Calling the amendment unlawful, human rights attorney Ali Mojtahedzade tweeted, “The… decision to allow disciplinary committees to investigate violations on social media can be nullified by the Administrative Justice Tribunal. Students should defend their rights.”