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Iran: End Ban on Access to Higher Education

Intelligence Ministry Behind Campaign to Punish Political Beliefs, Activism

Human Rights Watch called on Iran to immediately revoke bans on students from attending university because they hold political beliefs not to the government’s liking, and to allow registered students to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association.

In a briefing paper released today, entitled “Denying the Right to Education,” Human Rights Watch documents how the government barred at least 12 students from university registration this past year, despite the fact that graduate programs had accepted them on the basis of successful competitive entrance examinations. The briefing paper also documents the cases of another 54 students who were allowed to register only after agreeing to sign statements that they will refrain from peaceful political activities.

“This policy is a blatant attack on freedom of expression and the right to education,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The authorities want to coerce university students, the bedrock of critical thinking in any society, into silence and submission.”

According to documents obtained by Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Information, which performs intelligence functions, is orchestrating the campaign to deny student activists their right to education. The documents make clear that the decisions are solely based on the students’ political background, not on any educational standards. With the exception of one, all of the banned students are outspoken activists or work with the Islamic Students Association on their campuses.

Iran's Minister of Information, Mohseni Ezhei. © 2005 Human Rights Watch

The campaign to bar certain students from access to higher education intensifies an ongoing official campaign to persecute student activists. Since July 2005, the Judiciary has convicted and sentenced 24 students to prison terms for their political activities. The authorities have prosecuted another 11 students on politically motivated charges, but have not yet announced the verdicts.

During the same period, university disciplinary committees suspended 32 student activists from continuing their studies for up to two semesters, and university supervision boards suspended or banned 10 student associations from operating on campuses. The student associations have engaged solely in peaceful political activities.

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). As a party to the ICCPR, Iran has undertaken to respect the rights of freedom of expression and association. Under the ICESCR, Iran has undertaken to make higher education equally accessible to all without discrimination.

“By excluding students from universities on grounds of their political opinions, Iran is directly violating its clear legal obligations under both covenants,” Stork said.

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