This time of year in Iran, graduate school applicants learn if they’ve been accepted into the programs they’ve strived for based on their national exam rank. But over the past decade, authorities have been quietly barring student activists from furthering their education, marking their application status with a “star” that indicates their application is “missing documents.”
Yesterday, Zia Nabavi, a student who spent nine years behind bars for advocating for “starred” students, shared on Twitter that his own graduate school application has been labeled that it’s “lacking documents” on the Ministry of Higher Education’s exam center website, Sanjesh. This occurred despite the fact that Nabavi was ranked ninth out of over thousands of students on the national entrance exam for sociology earlier this summer.
When President Hassan Rouhani ran for office in 2013, he heavily criticized former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration for barring students from continuing their education for peaceful activism. One of the few human rights improvements in Rouhani’s first term was when his administration allowed some “starred” students to continue their education. In reviewing complaints by starred students in 2013, Jafar Tofighi, interim head at the Ministry of Science, said that of the 400 to 500 complaints they received from “starred” students, 40 could reenroll.
But over the past three years, several students have said authorities are preventing them from registering for graduate school or are making them sign pledges stating they would not do any activism. It seems that the Ministries of Science and Intelligence are again punishing student activists by barring them from graduate school. Additionally, since January, Intelligence Ministry authorities also arrested at least 150 student activists and courts have sentenced 17 of them to prison terms.
Last year, when two well-known student activists, Mahdieh Golrou and Majid Dori, staged a strike in front of the Ministry of Science to protest their ban, Fatemeh Saeedi, a member of parliament from Tehran, stepped up and helped Golrou get back to school. This year, Saeedi has asked people barred from continuing their education to submit their information to her so she can follow up.
I hope other parliamentarians will step up this year and make sure student activists like Zia Nabavi won’t suffer any more harm. It is shameful for Rouhani’s administration, who once celebrated the reenrollment of students to school as a rare success story, to return to the same restrictive measures.