A new report from Amnesty International documents the crackdown on Iranian students and scholars that came in the wake of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005.
The report, which is based on interviews with more than 50 individuals with direct knowledge of Iran’s higher education system and an analysis of publicly available documents and media reports, is titled "Silenced, Expelled, Imprisoned: Repression of Students and Academics in Iran." It provides specific information on the cases of student activists and scholars who were imprisoned on national security-related charges or allegations of insulting government leaders in connection with their participation in the mass protests that followed Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in 2009. Many remain behind bars today.
The report also traces how Ahmadinejad renewed and redoubled efforts to further “Islamicize” Iranian higher education, by, for example, tightening rules on gender segregation and dress code, suspending and expelling student activists and banning them from continuing their education elsewhere, cancelling or revising humanities courses deemed to be Western-influenced and “un-Islamic,” and dismissing or forcing the retirement of faculty perceived as being “secular” or “reformist.”
Furthermore, the Amnesty International report describes official government efforts to restrict university participation on the part of women – who by 2007 were reported to represent more than 58 percent of university enrollment – by imposing quotas on female enrollment in certain degree programs and closing off their participation in others (such as mining engineering). As the report documents, members of Iran’s unrecognized minority religions, including the Baha’is, have largely been denied access to higher education since shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Amnesty International offers a series of recommendations to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose comparatively moderate rhetoric since taking office last August has raised renewed hopes about the potential for improved relations between Iran and the West. The recommendations include “annul[ing] all previous arbitrary suspensions and expulsions of students and all forced retirements or effective dismissals of academic staff carried out on prohibited grounds” and ending discrimination on the basis of gender, religion and other identity categories.
“[T]he period since President Rouhani took office has seen some, albeit limited positive developments,” the report states, noting that some banned students had been allowed to resume their studies. Iran's Ministry of Science announced in August that 126 banned students had been reinstated.
“For hundreds of others, however, there appears to have been no change, and they remain barred from university either because of their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression or the rights to peaceful assembly and association, or because they are Baha’is or members of other officially unrecognized religious groups who continue to face discrimination," the report continues.
“President Rouhani’s first months in office have raised hopes of a less repressive system in Iran and greater government respect both for the human rights of Iran’s people and for its obligations under international human rights law. The next months and years will be crucial to whether Iran’s universities will be liberated from arbitrary interference by the security police and their political masters and be given the opportunity to become centres of independent scholarship, free thinking and innovation.”
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