Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Iranian Regime Keeps Close Watch on Students

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The Financial Times

Iranian students returned to university on Wednesday under the watchful eye of the government of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, which fears that they could reinvigorate opposition protests. In the absence of effective political parties, students, numbering 3.8m, played an important role in the protests against Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s disputed re-election on June 12. Following the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the regime quickly postponed exams and closed dormitories to keep students quiet. There are unconfirmed reports that before universities reopened the intelligence ministry resorted to preventive measures like arresting and summoning tens of students across the country. The news website of one of the top engineering schools claims that about 200 students across the Amir Kabir University country have been threatened that their education could be jeopardised should they pursue any political activities when the academic year began. The website also said 16 students from the Tehran University were called in last week for questioning that ended in the arrest of three top leaders.

Some reformist media also alleged that about 20 students with a history of political activity were disqualified to do masters degrees despite passing academic exams with high grades. Some students in other cities such as Zanjan and Babol, in north-western and northern Iran respectively, are reported to have been arrested and face sentences ranging from imprisonment to long-term bans on studying at university. There is also speculation that professors could face a purge. Saeed Hajjarian, one of the top reformist theorists who is in jail, confessed on Iran’s state television on Tuesday, blaming western-educated university professors for feeding students with theories that are not compatible with an Islamic country. “Universities are like a gunpowder storehouse,” a recent statement by some students of top universities warned, urging an end to such suppressions. “I doubt students will be silent to the recent political developments in particular the undergraduate students who are more energetic and fearless than others,” said one student in the north-western University of Tabriz.

The street protests almost every day by Iran’s opposition after the disputed presidential election have shrunk to certain political and religious occasions, but the government fears that the return of the students could reinvigorate them. Tehran’s governor general, Morteza Tamaddon, warned against a “plot in universities” by those who failed in the election and intend to disrupt “the normal trend in universities”. The Islamic regime shut down universities for three years after the 1979 Islamic revolution to “cleanse” universities of anti-government forces including communists and monarchists. Although analysts do not expect any similar closures, there are fears that there might be some short-term interruptions. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned last month against having 2m students in human sciences while the Islamic regime could not feed them with Islamic teachings. The High Council for Cultural Revolution, which is in charge of drafting macro cultural and academic policies, quickly ordered “revision” of human science subjects in universities.