When the new academic year started in Iran in late September 2006, several graduate students learned that the government was barring them from registering to take up university places. Because of their political beliefs and opinions, and in blatant violation of its international human rights obligations, the Iranian government is denying these students the right of access to education. Other students were informed that to be allowed to register they must sign a commitment letter, making the taking up or retaining of their university places conditional on toeing the line politically.
This development comes on the heels of a year-long official drive to punish student activists for political activities, beliefs, writings, and membership in student associations that are not officially endorsed. Several official organs within and outside of the universities have led a campaign against student activists, including university disciplinary committees, the Judiciary, the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (SR&T Ministry), and the Ministry of Information. University supervision committees have also banned 19 student publications, and suspended or dissolved Islamic Students Associations in 15 universities.1
Currently, the authorities have barred at least 17 students from higher educationsix during the 2005-06 academic year, and 11 in September 2006. At least another 54 students (and possibly many more) have been registered on the condition that they cease their political activities. Also, since July 2005 university disciplinary committees have suspended at least 41 students for up to two semesters. (Human Rights Watch has obtained the names of a further 35 students convicted and sentenced by the Judiciary since July 2005 for activities relating to political activism and student association membership, and six students who have been prosecuted but whose punishments have not yet been announced. Their cases are not discussed in detail in this background paper, but they are listed in the appendix.)
Iran is a party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).2 As a party to the ICCPR, Iran has undertaken to respect the rights of everyone to freedom of expression and association. Under the ICESCR Iran has undertaken that higher education shall be made equally accessible to all. Both covenants oblige states parties to guarantee that the rights be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to political or other opinion. The actions of the Iranian authorities in excluding students from university on grounds of their political and religious opinion or activity, and prosecuting others on similar grounds, is in direct contravention of Irans clear legal obligations under both covenants.