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Rights Activists Warn Against Student Crackdown 

---Iranian students protest to the verdicts against them over the last year protests in Iran, June 17, 2018.

Nearly 70 student associations have criticized the recent verdicts against students and warn that they will not allow “the totalitarian forces to target freedom and liberty again.”

The country’s science minister said five students are still behind bars for attending unprecedented rallies that broke out last December and shook the establishment for more than 10 days.

In a statement published on July 23, 68 student associations referred to the current situation in Iran and the “myriad dissatisfaction among people,” cautioning, “Authoritarian rhetoric toward justification has directed the country to a precarious route.”

Referring to an earlier protest statement issued by 63 associations, the new statement said, “Totalitarian elements not only proved their reluctance to address students’ demands, but they stepped further and sentenced a students’ rights activist, Ms. Fereshteh Tousi.”

Thirty-year-old Tousi was sentenced by a Tehran court to 18 months in prison on July 3 on charges of “propaganda against the state” for organizing a ceremony commemorating the national student day at Allameh Tababa’i University in December 2016.

She faces a two-year ban on leaving the country, taking part in social and mass media, including the press, and membership in political parties and associations.

“Iranian authorities have increased their crackdown on student protesters with prison terms and restrictions on their peaceful activities,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on July 21.

According to HRW, “As of mid-July 2018, reliable sources reported that revolutionary courts had sentenced at least eight student protesters from universities in Tehran and Tabriz to prison sentences of up to eight years and banned some of them from membership in political parties or participating in media, including social media, for two years.”

“Instead of enabling a safe environment for peaceful activism, Iranian authorities have gone back to their favorite response: cracking down on peaceful dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While encouraging students to participate in public discourse, the authorities in practice prosecute them for peaceful assembly.”

On March 7, the Telegram channel of the Association of Unions for University Students reported that Branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court had sentenced Leila Hassandzadeh and Sina Rabiee, student activists from the University of Tehran who were arrested on January 1, to six years and one year in prison respectively, and a two-year travel ban on charges of “conspiracy and collusion to act against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”

The association also reported that, on March 5, a trial court had sentenced Mohsen Haghshenas, a student of set design at the University of Tehran, to two years in prison on charges of “conspiracy and collusion to act against national security” and “disruption of public order by participating in illegal assemblies.”

On June 12, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), an independent human rights group, reported that Branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court had sentenced Sina Darvish Omran, a student of German language, and Ali Mozaffari, an anthropology student, both at the University of Tehran, to eight years in prison and two-year travel bans. The court also banned them from membership in political parties and participation in media, including social media, for two years.

On July 10, Roya Saghiri, a student at the University of Tabriz, posted on her Instagram account that a court of appeal had upheld her 23-month prison sentence “for propaganda against the state and insulting its pillars.” Several days earlier, a court had sentenced two University of Tabriz students, Ali Kamrani and Ali Ghadiri, to six months in prison.

The charges, vaguely defined, are usually used against political and human rights activists who have been recognized as “anti-Islamic Revolution” and “anti-state” dissidents by intelligence and judiciary officials.

Mahmoud Sadeghi, a parliament member from Tehran, tweeted on June 28 that courts reportedly based their verdicts and sentences against student activists on reports and interrogations by Intelligence Ministry officials.

Mansour Gholami, the science, research, and technology minister, told state-run Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on July 18 that a committee in the ministry is negotiating with authorities for “leniency” in the sentencing of these students.

Since March, 125 university lecturers and dozens of student associations have called upon President Hassan Rouhani to intervene to protect student rights.

During his presidential campaigns (2013-2017), Rouhani repeatedly promised to create a safe environment for students to freely voice their concerns and criticism.

Iran -- Iranian President and presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran on May 9, 2017.
Iran -- Iranian President and presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran on May 9, 2017.

“President Hassan Rouhani, who ran under the promise of citizens’ rights, should direct the ministries under his supervision to halt these abuses against university students,” Whitson said. “These are the young people who are so often extolled as essential to the country’s future economic success.”

The uprising against corruption, poverty, and unemployment that broke out in December in the Shi’ite holiest city in Iran, Mashhad, soon turned into widespread demonstrations against the establishment and its highest authorities. The demonstrations continued for 11 days across the country, leaving at least 25 dead and more than 5,000 arrested.