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Politically Suspect Students Marked With A Star, Barred From Universities

A student protest in the Oil Industry University in Iran. File photo

At least 150 students eligible to start Masters and Doctoral programs have been barred from carrying on their studies at universities, daily Jame’eye Farda (Tomorrow’s Society) reported on Thursday, November 30.

Citing an “informed source” at the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, the daily said, “In the new educational year, between 150 to 200 students, after passing the tests for Masters and PhDs degrees, have been listed as ‘starred students’ and barred from entering the universities”.

“Starred students” is a term coined immediately after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first presidential term (2005).

It refers to students who are deemed politically unreliable or undesirable by one or more of the Islamic Republic’s numerous intelligence apparatuses.

An asterisk or star is added next to their name to separate them from others. Probably Iran is the only place where having a star(s) next to a name does not mean a positive distinction.

However, during the controversial 2009 presidential election, the incumbent, Ahmadinejad denied the existence of such a categorization.

Immediately after the denial, scores of starred students gathered to prove that they were indeed banned from continuing their education because of their religion, political views or students’ rights activities.

At least three of the students at the gathering were later detained and placed behind bars.

The question of starred students repeatedly appeared during Hassan Rouhani’s presidential campaigns. At a rally in 2013, Rouhani emphatically promised to address the problem when the human rights commission of an influential students’ association declared that more than 1000 starred students had been barred from continuing their education in eight years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

Nevertheless, a year through Rouhani’s first term as president, Amnesty International (AI) described the students’ situation in Iran as “grave”.

Hundreds of students are deprived of further education while many of them are behind bars, AI said in a report.

The question of starred students was raised at several meetings with Rouhani. In one of the gatherings, a student lamented, “…the heads of our universities…are merely reactionaries who have reemerged in modern suits and kill you softly”.

Two days prior to the publication of Jame’eye Farda’s report, Rouhani had insisted on television, “We cannot confine the universities into a specific political view---Students must step in and participate in political and social debates. They should have more room to maneuver. In the current situation, we should not let students to be divided over political issues”.

However, according to a number of students’ rights activists, several starred students have recently been allowed to carry on their education after signing a written commitment.

The text of the commitment has not yet been revealed.