Background Briefing

Barred from Education

During the last academic year (2005-2006), the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology notified six students that they can no longer pursue their higher education. They are: Mehdi Aminizadeh (Mofid University in Qom), Peyman Aref (Tehran University), Hamed Hasandoost (Teachers’ College in Tehran), Ezattollah Torbatinejad (Kurdistan University), Towhid Alizadeh (Tehran University), and Muhammad Zamani (Zanjan University).

In September 2006, another 11 students discovered that, despite having been accepted to graduate programs, they were not allowed to register. They are: Hananeh Azizi (Alameh Tabataba’i University), Siamak Karimi (Hamedan University), Yashar Ghajar (Tabriz Polytechnic University), Zahra Janipour (Hamedan University), Gharib Sajadi (Alameh Tabataba’i University), Roozbeh Riazi-Moghadam (Amir Kabir University), Mansour Ezati (Industrial University of Isfahan), Saeed Ardeshiri (Kerman University), Shuresh Muradi (Kurdistan University), Salar Saket (Kurdistan University), and Mohsen Fatehi (Tehran University).

Interviews with some of these students, and official letters by the SR&T Ministry, obtained by Human Rights Watch, indicate that the ministry’s barring these students is politically motivated and directly linked to their activism. Furthermore, according to student testimonies and official letters, it is not the SR&T Ministry but the Ministry of Information that is the main authority involved in deciding to bar them from education.

All of the above students, except for Hananeh Azizi, are either members of Islamic Students’ Associations in their universities or have been outspoken activists. Apparently, Hananeh Azizi is being barred from her right of access to higher education because her father is the persecuted writer Yusuf Azizi Banitoraf.3

In a letter written in response to an appeal by one of the barred students, obtained by Human Rights Watch, Seyed Morteza Nurbakhsh, director of the Central Committee for Selection of Students and Faculty at the SR&T Ministry wrote, “After receiving an answer to our inquiry from the Ministry of Information, it has been determined that the said student lacks proper qualifications for continuing his education at the graduate level and thus following this decision by the Ministry of Information, it was announced to the National Organization for Admissions (Saziman Sanjish Amuzish Keshvar) to reject his admission.”4

The Ministry of Information, which primarily acts as an intelligence agency, is not the proper authority to determine a student’s educational “qualifications.” All of the above students earned their right to enter graduate programs by passing competitive entrance examinations.

Another of the barred students, Mehdi Aminizadeh, told Human Rights Watch:

Last year, during the first day of school, university officials contacted me and said that, based on a letter from the Selection Committee of the National Organization for Admissions, you are barred from continuing your education. I pursued the matter with the Ministry of Science, and it became clear that the Ministry of Information is where this decision was taken. I was also “invited” to the Ministry of Information where its officials told me, “In our view, it is best to deal with students like you at this level. This way it has a much lower cost for the system [nizam].” They told me outright that they are going to prevent me from pursuing my education.5

Peyman Aref has a history of being persecuted by the authorities, who have arrested him several times during the past five years. In April 2006 a court handed down a suspended sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment after convicting him of propaganda against the state and of acting against national security. He has lodged an appeal. Aref had entered the graduate program at Tehran University’s College of Law in September 2005, having ranked second in the national entrance exam. He told Human Rights Watch that university officials notified him in April 2006 that he is barred from education and cannot finish his master’s degree. He also alleged that the Ministry of Information asked the SR&T Ministry to prevent him from engaging in further academic work.  Aref told us, “In a letter from the Selection Committee for Students and Faculty, I was notified that I lack proper general and ideological [iteghadi] qualifications for continuing my education. I have been summoned to the Ministry of Information several times, and their officials told me that if I give any lecture, or write anything they consider extreme, they will imprison me.”6

Human Rights Watch obtained a letter sent from the SR&T Ministry to one student barred from continuing his education. Prior to this he had received a letter, dated September 19, 2006, which stated that the student’s admission had been rejected due to “selection [gozinesh] regulations,” but that the rejection could be appealed. The accompanying appeals form required the student to follow these instructions:

  1. Provide a summary of your political and social background (before and after the revolution).
  2. Describe activities you have engaged in (after the revolution).
  3. Provide details of any detention (even for a brief period) by security or judicial authorities. Include date, reason, and duration of your detention.
  4. Please identify exact names and addresses of well known references (excluding family members) who are familiar with you through your place of education or work.7

This letter demonstrates that the SR&T Ministry’s admissions process is based on a student’s political background and activities.

3 “Complete report of the press conference by Office to Foster Unity regarding students barred from education,” Advarnews, September 29, 2006. Security agents arrested Yusuf Azizi Banitoraf in April 2005 and charged him with endangering national security. He was subsequently released on bail.

4 Letter from Seyed Morteza Nurbakhsh, director of the Central Committee for Selection of Students and Faculty at the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, to Seyed Jalal Hosseini, director of the President’s Office for Coordination of Complaints from the Public, dated April 23, 2006.

5 Human Rights Watch interview with Mehdi Aminizadeh, October 5, 2006.

6 Human Rights Watch interview with Peyman Aref, October 3, 2006.

7 Letter from Seyed Morteza Nurbakhsh, director of the Central Committee for Selection of Students and Faculty at the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, to a student (identity withheld) subjected to conditional registration, copy on file with Human Rights Watch.