In Iran, the right to education is being stripped from activists. Iranian authorities have been preventing student activists from receiving a graduate education by placing a “star” on their applications, which specify that their application is “missing documents.” Zia Nabavi, an activist and student who was ranked ninth out of over a thousand students on the national entrance exam for sociology announced on Twitter that he had received a “starred” application. Nabavi spent nine years in prison for activism, and believes that this is the main reason for his starred application despite his excellent grades. Grades are therefore not the main factor being taken into account by the Iranian authorities and graduate schools, but whether or not one has protested or advocated for a cause.
According to Human Rights Watch, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani slammed the administration of his immediate predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for prohibiting activist students from the right to higher education. According to the the Iranian Ministry of Science, over 400 complaints were received from student activists regarding their “starred” applications. Despite Rouhani’s criticism of the system, only 40 students who complained were re-enrolled. The situation has recently worsened, with students reporting that authorities are now preventing them from registering for graduate school altogether or making them sign contractual pledges to not partake in any peaceful activism. Over a hundred students as of January 2018 have now been arrested by the Intelligence Ministry and 17 have been sentenced to prison time for refusing to comply with the Iranian authorities demands.
Human Rights Watch Iranian Researcher Tara Sepehri Far stated that “it is shameful for Rouhani’s administration, who once celebrated the re-enrolment of students to school as a rare success story, to return to the same restrictive measures.” As well as the “starred” and “missing documents” scheme, the use of pledges is even more disturbing as Iran is forcing students to decide between education and speech, two essential human rights that should be protected. In 2017, politician Fatemeh Saeedi helped an activist return to school and has asked barred activists to submit their information to her so she can follow up. Saeedi’s actions should be praised and it is hoped that other politicians are brave enough to stand up to the Iranian authorities’ restrictive measures.
The prohibition of education leads to a lack of opportunities and is a proven root cause of poverty. Therefore, by prohibiting education, Iranian authorities are attempting to degrade the importance, impact and influence of student activists within Iranian society. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch commented on Iran’s recent crackdown on human rights activism, “at a time when everyday life is increasingly difficult for millions of Iranians, rights advocates should be an essential part of solving collective problems, instead of a primary target of the government’s crackdown.” Whitson is correct, prohibiting rights to activists will only lead to further problems for the Iranian people. Therefore, rights groups, organisations and nations that uphold human rights must voice their concern against Iran’s cruel and ruthless measures against its student activists.
Iran’s restrictive and ominous crackdown against activists is disturbing. As advocates of peace and human rights, we must continue to voice our support to Iranian student activists and politicians like Saeedi. Iran needs to understand the importance of education and peaceful activism, and that when rights are restricted, activists will only protest louder.