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Authorities urged to free students jailed for speaking out

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, May 5, 2012 - Iranian authorities should immediately free dozens of university students currently behind bars solely for peacefully expressing political opinions, and end harassment of student activists on university campuses throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch issued the call as part of a joint campaign initiated by Iranian and international student and rights groups to highlight the government's systematic crackdown against university students for their political activism.

The campaign has called for the unconditional and immediate release of the 32 students in prison on various national security-related charges. Authorities rounded up many of these students after the disputed June 2009 presidential election, and revolutionary courts convicted and sentenced them on charges such as “propaganda against the system,” “participating in illegal gatherings,” and “insulting the president.” Therefore all were convicted specifically for exercising their rights under international law to freedom of speech, of association, and of peaceful assembly. Security, intelligence, and university officials have disciplined, suspended, or expelled hundreds of other students who criticized the government during the past few years.

“Instead of serving as sanctuaries for higher learning and free debate, Iran's university campuses are being targeted by the government to silence dissent, stifle academic freedom, and impose uniformity of thought,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Two of Iran's largest student groups, Tahkim-e Vahdat (Office to Foster Unity) and its alumni association Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat, spearheaded the Speak Up for Imprisoned Students campaign on April 21, 2012.

Activists began the campaign on the heels of a report prepared by Tahkim in January that documented the arrests of students. According to the report, since March 2009, 436 students have been arrested, 254 convicted, and 364 suspended or expelled. Tahkim also alleged that judiciary officials had summoned at least 144 students for investigations and that officials have closed down 13 student publications.

Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, highlighted the dire situation of student activists in his most recent report in March 2012. The report, which followed an interim report on September 23, 2011, documented a “striking pattern of violations” by Iranian authorities and outlined the government's continuing refusal to cooperate with UN bodies.

As recently as April, Kamran Daneshjoo, the minister of science, research, and technology, announced that, “Individuals who participated in the 2009 insurrection. . .have no right to enter universities.” The Science Ministry, the primary government body responsible for regulating universities in Iran, has introduced a number of controversial measures during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency in an effort to “Islamicize” Iran's universities.

“There is absolutely no reason why any of these students should spend one more day behind bars, let alone forfeit their right to continue their studies in Iran's universities,” Whitson said. “Authorities should immediately drop charges and release all students imprisoned for criticizing the government, and reverse their futile policy of barring students from higher education on account of their peaceful political activism.”

Read background information and a complete list of campaign participants and imprisoned students

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