University students cross a street during a snow storm in Tehran November 8, 2010. 

© 2010 Reuters/Caren Firouz

(Beirut) – Iranian authorities have increased their crackdown on student protesters with prison terms and restrictions on their peaceful activities, Human Rights Watch said today.  After authorities repressed the protests that broke out in December 2017 and January 2018, Intelligence Ministry authorities have arrested at least 150 students and courts have sentenced 17 to prison terms, according to a member of parliament. In January, another parliament member had tweeted that when he followed up on the arrests of students with the authorities, he was told that most arrests were “preventive.”

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 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 scenic 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 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.

In an earlier case, Fereshteh Tousi, 30, 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 the Allameh Tababa’i University in December 2016. 

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 minister, told 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 professors and dozens of student associations have called on President Rouhani to intervene to protect the students’ rights.

“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.