October 17, 2013

By Shafigeh Shirazi
University World News

A spate of student protests against oppressive measures on campuses and lack of basic rights for students have continued across Iran, despite a call by President Hassan Rouhani for more freedom in universities.

Speaking to a group of students and professors during a visit to Tehran University on Monday 14 October, amid tight security and the presence of police in full riot gear, Rouhani was quoted by the Iranian Students’ News Agency, ISNA, as saying it would be a “shame” if professors could not express their opinions.

University officials should respect freedom of expression, and “we should not be involved in the bad and inappropriate tendency of sending teachers into early retirement”, he was quoted as saying.

Rouhani called on religious and political authorities to stop banning students from attending and speaking at gatherings of scholars on the world stage, which he described as “scientific diplomacy”.

“I call on the security services to pave the way for that diplomacy and to trust professors and students,” he is quoted as saying.

But HRANA, a human rights news agency in Iran, said that at least two students at the university, one of them a woman, were arrested during the president’s visit.

“The security forces were filming the students during the speeches and arrested them afterwards,” students told HRANA.

Despite Rouhani’s calls for a more open atmosphere, rights groups say oppression continues in many universities where hard-liners have the upper hand.

Students said Rouhani’s calls for more campus freedom amounted to a challenge to hard-line groups that dominate student organisations on campus. Rouhani was also quoted as saying that his administration would not tolerate “factional pressures” on university campuses.

Poor treatment

Earlier, a number of human rights organisations reported that Fatemeh Nasirian, a political science student and women’s rights activist, was expelled this month without explanation from the Islamic Azad University.

She had previously been sentenced to six months in prison with physical punishment after being accused of propaganda against the regime by publishing a newspaper for the student union on International Women’s Day. The sentence was rejected by Iran’s Supreme Court.

Her expulsion, reported by a number of rights groups, came despite promises by Hamid Mirzadeh, the new head of Azad University who took office last month.

He said during a press conference on 21 September that a new directive had been issued to Azad University faculty that students would no longer be expelled or suspended for their political beliefs.

He also said university faculty who felt discriminated against could have their cases reviewed by raising the issue with the university’s administration, ISNA reported in September.

The new head of Allameh Tabatabai University Hassan Salimi announced in September, when he took office, that some retired professors – in the past those opposing the regime had been forced into retirement – had now returned to the university. They “had no problems of any sort”, he was quoted by Mehr News Agency as saying.

But the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, in a statement released last Sunday, said Mohammad Sharif, a professor of law at Allameh Tabatabai who was dismissed abruptly and without explanation in April 2011, had not received a response to his request to return to work.

Sharif had been at the university for 25 years. He represented many political prisoners in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election. He also represented several dismissed faculty members.

Rights groups including HRANA noted that a number of students and professors who had been released along with other political prisoners, had been re-summoned. A number of rights organisations named Parvin Zandi, a professor at Varamin University who was previously arrested along with her husband Arash in December 2012, as being among them.

Protests continue

The exile group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI, reported this week that protests continued “against mismanagement and oppression” at a number of universities, including the technical college of Tehran University.

At Tehran Melli University there have been protests against the banning of student activities.

In a separate statement released on 3 October, NCRI said that students at Bu Ali Sina University in Hamedan had staged protests on campus and demanded the resignation of a dean. The students also protested against weak management and demanded an “open political atmosphere”.

Demands included the annulment of gender segregation, an end to the political atmosphere on campus, allowing the publication of student newspapers and open debates, establishing student associations and allowing more freedom for student activities.