Some students were killed when security forces raided university dormitories. Other students and academics were arrested, imprisoned or sentenced to death on charges based on confessions obtained under torture. Academics specializing in nuclear physics and engineering were assassinated.802
The reporting period witnessed many protests against the government’s attempts to block reformists from power. The protests, in which students played an important role, were sparked largely by the controversial re-election of conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in June 2009. The subsequent suppression of protesters led to a large number of human rights violations,803 with journalists, students, academics and political activists imprisoned.804 Further protests erupted in 2011, partly influenced by the Arab Spring.805 Iran’s security forces, apparently supported by the justice system, repressed the dissent with methods that included arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture.806
Failure to use due process led to extreme cases of injustice, including arbitrary execution. For instance, in 2010, Farzad Kamangar, a Kurdish teacher with alleged links to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was reportedly tortured while in custody and was sentenced to death, and subsequently executed, after a seven-minute trial in which no evidence was presented.807
From 2007 to 2013, the Iranian authorities systematically discriminated against politically active students by partially or completely banning them from higher education.808 Independent student organizations were also banned and faculty were purged,809 and the social sciences and humanities curricula were restricted.810 In total, at least 250 students and professors were expelled from April 2005 to March 2013.811 According to a compilation of media and human rights sources, from 2009 more than 200 university teachers were forced to retire each year, reportedly because they did not ‘share the regime’s direction’ or support the rule of the Supreme Leader.812
Furthermore, followers of the Baha’i faith were barred officially from attending higher education from 1979, and from 2009 they were increasingly harassed in schools by staff.813 Several Baha’is affiliated with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education – an alternative online system of teaching set up because Baha’is were barred from universities – were arrested.814 The activities of the institute were declared illegal and its diplomas and degrees were denied legal validity.815 The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran said Baha’is face institutionalized persecution and the government’s own documents revealed a policy to deprive them of education.816
The election of Hassan Rouhani as President on 14 June 2013 raised hopes of political reform, and signalled an apparent thawing in relations abroad817 and a more liberal policy towards those in education at home, including the reinstatement of some students and professors.818
In 2011, net enrolment at primary school level was 100 per cent, while at secondary level it was estimated at 79 per cent. Gross enrolment in tertiary education was 49 per cent. The adult literacy rate was 85 per cent (2008).819
Attacks on school students, teachers and other education personnel
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 39 teachers were detained between January 2009 and October 2012 on charges related to national security, many of them in connection with their activities as teacher trade unionists. For example, 15 were imprisoned because of their trade union activity, including protests for higher wages.820 Some teacher trade unionists received long and severe sentences.821 In one case, the former head of the Mashad Headteachers’ Union was sentenced to six years in prison in 2009 on charges relating to his trade union activity. The sentence was later reduced to two years, but when he was due to be released he was tried on a new charge of ‘creating public anxiety’.822
Attacks on higher education
In 2009 alone, there were at least 30 attacks on universities and colleges, including campus raids and arrests of students, faculty and staff.823
Attacks on academics and students primarily came in the context of anti-government protests. However, there was also a pattern of targeted killings of those specializing in physics and engineering. Iranian officials alleged that these incidents were perpetrated by foreigners and related to the development of the country’s nuclear capacity. Among these, on 12 January 2010, a remote-controlled bomb placed on the motorcycle of Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, 50, a physicist at Tehran University, detonated outside his apartment as he was heading to work, killing him instantly.824 This was followed by similar assassinations of Majid Shahriari, a nuclear engineer at Tehran University, on 29 November 2010 and academic Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan on 11 January 2012. Another nuclear physicist, Fereidoun Abbasi, was wounded on 29 November 2010.825 Further, on 23 July 2011, two gunmen on motorcycles killed a student who was studying for a master’s degree in the field of electrical engineering at Nasir al-Din University in Tehran and working with the Ministry of Defence.826
Students were killed, arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to death in connection with anti-government protests in 2009. Some of these incidents took place during student association activities or on campus.827 Days after the disputed 2009 election, security forces assaulted students in several provincial towns including Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Bandar Abbas and Mashad.828 In one incident, on 14 June 2009, around 300 riot police and Basij forces armed with guns raided Tehran University’s dormitories, resulting in the deaths of at least five students and 133 arrests.829 One witness told The Guardian that police issued a warning on loudspeakers saying: ‘If you evacuate the building, we won’t harm you. Otherwise you will all be injured or killed.’ When the students came out with their hands on their heads, the police beat them with batons.830
In several cases, students or academics were executed after being convicted on spurious charges or confessing under duress. One charge known as moharebeh (‘enmity with God’) has been defined very broadly. For example, Mohammad Amin Valian, a 20-year-old student who was active in the Islamic Association, a student organization, was charged with moharebeh and sentenced to death in February 2010 for his role in the post-2009 election protests. His alleged crimes included shouting ‘Death to the dictator’; being affiliated with the Central Council of the Islamic Association of Damghan Science University and statements published by them; and organizing election debates at the university. He was convicted based on evidence that included photos of him at a demonstration in December 2009 throwing rocks into an empty area.831 Following international protests, the sentence was reduced to imprisonment and a fine.832
After the 2009 post-electoral conflicts, cases of prolonged detention without charge, arbitrary arrest and sentencing of students and teachers for political reasons continued to be recorded. In the three years from March 2009, the Human Rights Commission of the Iranian student association, Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, identified instances of 436 arrests, 254 convictions and 364 cases of denial of education.833 As of April 2012, some 31 students were still being held in prison.834 The charges ranged from ‘putting up posters’ to attending an anti-government rally. Some were given the additional sentence of ‘prison in exile’, meaning they were sent to a distant prison.835
Omid Kokabee, a PhD student at the University of Texas, was arrested while visiting his family in Iran in 2011 and was held for 15 months before being given a verdict in a rushed trial in which no evidence was presented, according to his lawyer. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for national security offences after refusing to co-operate on scientific projects in Iran, his lawyer said.836
Another student, Majid Tavakoli, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years after he spoke at a National Students’ Day rally at Amirkabir University of Technology in 2009.837 Charges against him included ‘participating in an illegal gathering’, ‘propaganda against the system’ and ‘insulting officials’. Tavakoli was convicted after an unfair trial, without a lawyer, and was held for months in solitary confinement and sent to Evin prison.838 He was released on bail in October 2013.839
In early June 2011, following the arrest of many lecturers,840 the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) was declared illegal by the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology.841
Attacks on education in 2013
In January, three teachers were among five founder members of the Alhavar Science and Culture Institute who had their death sentences suspended pending new investigations. Their sentences had followed false confessions made after being tortured, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Alhavar members organized poetry nights and art classes for young Arabs at a location belonging to the education and development ministry, but the institute was banned after organizing demonstrations opposing discrimination against Arab people in 2005.842
Following Hassan Rouhani’s election as president, some measures against students were eased. In September, the Ministry of Science announced that student activists who had been expelled from universities after 2011 could resume their studies, but those who were banned earlier remained barred.843
802 This profile covers attacks on education in 2009-2012 and has an additional section on attacks in 2013.
803 Amnesty International, “Iran’s Crackdown on Dissent Widens with Hundreds Unjustly Imprisoned,” 9 June 2010.
804 HRW, “Iran: Escalating Repression of University Students,” 7 December 2010.
805 Yojana Sharma, “Iran: Students Killed, Arrested in Egypt-Style Protests,” University World News, 17 February 2011.
806 Amnesty International, “Iran’s Crackdown on Dissent Widens with Hundreds Unjustly Imprisoned,” 9 June 2010.
807 Human Rights Council (HRC), Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, A/HRC/19/66, 6March 2012, para 63; International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Political Executions Indication of Government’s Insecurity,” 9 May 2010; Education International, “Far ad Kamangar: EI outraged at Iranian teacher’s execution,” 10May 2010; and “In memory of Far ad Karmanger, Iranian Kurdish teacher,” The Guardian, 16 May 2012.
808 Farna Fassihi, “Regime Wages a Quiet War on ‘Star Students’ of Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, 31 December 2009.
809 Farna Fassihi, “Regime Wages a Quiet War on ‘Star Students’ of Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, 31 December 2009; and “Iran: Purge of Independent-Minded Professors,” University World News, 25 April 2010.
810 US Department of State, 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Iran (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2012).
811 Report on Violation of Right to Education of Students in Iran, April 2005 - March 2013 (Right to Education, The Human Rights Committee at the ‘Office for Consolidating Unity’ and www.daneshjoonews.com, 2013), 17.
812 “Iran: Purge of Independent-Minded Professors,” University World News, 25 April 2010; International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Dismissals reflect explicit science ministry policy,” 19 April 2010; and information provided by a UN respondent, 30 January 2013.
813 Report on Violation of Right to Education of Students in Iran, April 2005 - March 2013 (Right to Education, The Human Rights Committee at the ‘Office for Consolidating Unity’ and www.daneshjoonews.com, 2013), 22. (In 2006, when the requirement for candidates to state their religion was removed from examination registration forms, hundreds of Baha’i followers took the examinations and were accepted to enter university, but as soon as their religion became known the students were expelled.)
814 HRC, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, A/HRC/19/66, 6 March 2012, para 61.
815 Statement of the Ministry of Science and Technology, reported by the state news agency, ISNA, 4 June 2011, cited in HRC, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, A/HRC/19/66, 6 March 2012, para 61.
816 HRC, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, A/HRC/19/66, 6 March 2012, paras 59, 60.
817 Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran’s Leaders Signal Effort at New Thaw,” New York Times, 18 September 2013.
818 Nasser Karimi, “Academic Freedoms In Iran Should Grow, President Rouhani Says,” AP, 14 October 2013.
819 UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “Education (all levels) Profile - Iran,” UIS Statistics in Brief (2011).
820 HRW, “Iran: Free teachers jailed for speaking out,” 5 October 2012.
821 “Iranian leader faces reprisals following the joint statement and the call to hunger strike,” Iran Labor Report, 30 April 2010.
822 International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights – Iran, 6 June 2012.
823 Information provided by a UN respondent, 30 January 2013.
824 Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, “Iran says nuclear scientist killed in bomb blast,” Los Angeles Times, 12 January 2010.
825 “Bombs Kill, Injure 2 Iran Nuclear Scientists,” CBS News, 29 November 2010; and David Matthews, “Nuclear Scientist Killed in Bomb Attack in Iran,” Times Higher Education, 11 January 2012.
826 “Report: Iranian Man Killed Near his Tehran Home was a Student,” CNN, 24 July 2011.
827 See, for example, the cases of Mohammad Amin and Valian Majid Tavakoli in this section.
828 Jonathan Travis, “Turmoil in Iran Extends to Universities,” University World News, 5 July 2009.
829 Saeed Kamali Dehghan, “Death in the dorms: Iranian students recall horror of police invasions,” The Guardian, 12 July 2009.
830 Robert Tait and Saeed Kamali Dehghan, “Iran: 12 students reported killed in crackdown after violent clashes,” The Guardian, 15 June 2009.
831 International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Protestor in Danger as Iran Flouts Human Rights Standards,” 3 March 2010; Mohammad Amin Valian, “Iran: One year on,” Amnesty International; and “Mohammad-Amin Valian,” Stop the Executions.
832 International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Student’s Death Sentence for Throwing Rocks Reversed,” 16 May 2010.
833 HRC, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, A/HRC/19/66, 6 March 2012, para 58.
834 International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Speak Out for Imprisoned Students,” 26 April 2012.
835 Sarah Shourd, “They were arrested too: Iran’s harried student movement,” Huffington Post, 3 May 2012.
836 Committee of Concerned Scientists, “New appeal for Omid Kokabee details specific human rights law violations,” 23 August 2013.
837 International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Majid’s family unable to visit him due to distance,” 14 December 2010.
838 Amnesty International, “Student Activist Jailed for Speaking Out.”
839 Saeed Kamali Dehghan, “Student Activist Majid Tavakoli out on bail after four years in jail: Prisoner is latest in number of political detainees given leave or released since Hassan Rouhani became president,” The Guardian, 22 October 2013.
840 Mitra Mobasherat and Joe Sterling, “For Baha’i Educators, a Lesson in Power from Iran,” CNN, 3 June 2011.
841 Tim Hume, “Iran bans ‘underground university,’ brands it ‘extremist cult’,” CNN, 10 November 2011.
842 International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Iranian Judiciary Must Halt Death Sentences and Investigate Torture Claims,” 25 January 2013.
843 Shafigeh Shirazi and Yojana Sharma, “Partial reprieve for students barred from universities,” University World News, Issue No: 288, 19 September 2013.