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Students Ask Rouhani For More Freedoms, Rights


Students protest in a Tehran university. The banner reads, "The university is not a barracks". Undated

More than 8,000 students’ rights activists have cautioned that “problems and crises in Iran’s higher education institutions” have reached a “tipping point.”

In a letter published by the Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, the students bitterly criticize what they describe as “pressure being exerted on student associations and publications while the Science and Higher Education Ministry has kept mum.”

Meanwhile, they urge President Hassan Rouhani to nominate somebody to lead the ministry who is capable of “resisting pressures” and who firmly believes the “nature and characteristics of the universities are non-negotiable.”

“During Rouhani’s first term,” the letter maintains, “many licensed and scheduled student programs, gatherings, and speeches were called off for different excuses and a significant number of students’ rights activists were summoned to court.”

“Nevertheless,” the letter continues, “the minister and his deputies did not even once firmly resist the pressure, and in many cases even the heads of universities joined in the chorus to support such actions.”

Students protest in Behsheti University on 7 December 2013. The placard reads "No to security environment."
Students protest in Behsheti University on 7 December 2013. The placard reads "No to security environment."

Students refer to harsh restrictions imposed on them during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many events organized by students used to be forcibly cancelled and several student activists had been summoned by security and judicial authorities, but the officials of Ministry of science remained silent.

“Guidelines remaining from the past are still preventing students from any type of creative cultural, political, and scientific activities at universities,” reads the protest letter.

The fund for cultural activities at universities were distributed only among student association's loyal to the conservative establishment. At some universities, students who voiced critical opinions, did not receive any permit for publications, or their newspapers and magazines were being censored before being published, reads the letter.

The fund for cultural activities at universities were distributed only among student associations loyal to the conservative establishment. At some universities, students who voiced critical opinions, did not receive any permit for publications...

In an illegal move, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government had also granted national and International scholarships to more than 3,000 students with well-connected families.When Rouhani came to power, his minister of science, Reza Faraji Dana tried to revoke the scholarships. He was impeached in August 2014 by the parliament, which was dominated by conservatives - the main beneficiaries of the favoritism.

Highlighting the fact that “many students have been unfairly forced to quit their education,” the letter calls for “appointing courageous, capable, and powerful persons to manage the universities to end non-academic interferences in Iran’s higher education domain, once and for all.”

It is not the first time Iranian students, as well as several MPs, have complained of an atmosphere rife with fear and intimidation at universities.

In a similar letter to Rouhani in July 2016, 92 student associations reported student programs being called off for no reason and “illegal” interference in student initiatives.

In the weeks before the May presidential election, 72 student associations from universities across Iran issued a joint statement demanding Rouhani to end the security climate on campuses, halt the rising costs of education, and ban discriminatory practices against female students.

The most recent letter insists that none of the problems has been addressed.

“All that has happened at universities in recent years is the continuation of student inactivity and isolation,” it said.

Rouhani has long been vocal about promises to end the security crackdown on campuses and stop outside interferences with academic affairs.

In a speech marking Iran’s Student Day on December 7, 2015, Rouhani maintained that “the security climate ruling over Iran’s universities has been lessened.”

“I feel that the difference between the climate now and the one in 2013 is like night and day,” he had said.

It appears that the 8,000 signatories of the letter, as well as many more whom they represent, would beg to differ.

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