Iran: Stop Punishing Student Activists
Iranian authorities should stop using university disciplinary committees as a means to punish students for participating in political protests, Human Rights Watch said today.
University disciplinary committees (komiteh enzebati) throughout Iran are reportedly holding hearings of students allegedly involved in pro-reform protests over the last year. The committees have suspended some students for one semester and expelled others.
"The punishment and intimidation of students for joining peaceful protests is a serious violation of academic freedom," said Joe Stork, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "Students are being given a clear message: remain silent, or risk being kicked out of school."
According to Iranian media reports, the disciplinary committee of Mazandaran University in Babolsar expelled two students solely for participating in non-violent political demonstrations, and other Mazandaran students are waiting to hear the results of their hearings. Twenty-one students at Razi University in Kermanshah have been suspended for two terms. At Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, seven students have been suspended or expelled. The disciplinary committee at Shahid Bahonar University in Kerman has reportedly expelled two students. Disciplinary committees at universities in Semnan and Tabriz have also reportedly begun holding hearings of students who were allegedly involved in protests in November 2002 and June 2003.
In a statement released on September 26, the student body of Ferdowsi University in Mashhad said that the university disciplinary committee seeks to create "a cemetery-like quiet on campus."
The university disciplinary committees predate the 1979 revolution. Generally controlled by university administrations, they were created to address purely academic concerns such as cheating or disputes over school credits. However, in some universities, especially outside Tehran, hardliners in the government have pushed the committees to play an intrusive political role.
Since the July 1999 protests at Tehran University, the Iranian judiciary and security forces have repeatedly cracked down on student activists. The most recent protests, which spread from university campuses to other parts of major cities during June 2003, were violently suppressed by vigilante groups.
On September 29, Gholamreza Zarifian, a deputy science minister in charge of student affairs, reportedly said that only the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology has the power to remove students, and that all judgments made by the committees are subject to review. This came in the wake of a letter from more than 120 members of parliament condemning the disciplinary committees for their treatment of students and for their interference in university life.
Human Rights Watch urged the European Union, in its upcoming Human Rights Dialogue with Iran, to call for a moratorium on any further hearings or judgments by the university disciplinary committees regarding non-violent political activism by students.