IRAN: Purge of independent-minded professors

The Iranian government continues to dismiss prominent university professors on political grounds, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said in a statement last week.

After the dismissal of Dr Morteza Mardiha from his post at Allameh Tabatabaee University on 5 April, two Elm-va-San'at University professors were also fired, part of an ongoing process to dismiss academics who have different viewpoints from the government, or who supported students during their protests.

Sayed Ali Asghar Beheshti and Mohammad Shahri of Elm-va-San'at University received written dismissal notices following a call by Iran's Minister of Science, Research and Technology for 'ideological conformity' on the part of professors.

"Iran's purge of professors expressing independent views is an assault on their basic human rights and on academic freedom," said Aaron Rhodes, a spokesman for the campaign.
"These policies will further politicise and debase Iran's universities, long a source of national pride and admiration by scholars around the world," he said.

The dismissals were the first of their kind to take place after Minister of Science, Research and Technology Kamran Daneshjoo's 4 March 2010 statements. Daneshjoo announced that academics members who did not "share the regime's direction", and who did not have "practical commitment to velayat-e faqih (rule of the Supreme Leader)" would be dismissed.

"We do not need some faculty members whose tendencies and actions are not in coordination with the Islamic Republic regime," he said.

The announcement is considered the most explicit statement justifying depriving academics from their positions because of their political viewpoints. Daneshjou did not provide any explanations about what constituted "sharing the regime's direction".

According to the news site Kaleme, Sayed Ali Asghar Beheshti Shirazi, an experienced and prominent professor of telecommunications at Elm-va-San'at University, and Professor Mohammad Shahri, an electrical engineering professor, both of whom were employed in the electrical engineering research centre, were dismissed on 13 April.

The two professors had earlier written a letter protesting against the heavy and unprecedented sentences the university's disciplinary committee had issued students. They supported the students and objected to the 28 December 2009 entry of plain-clothes forces on to the campus and the beatings of students.

Professor Touraj Mohammadi, chair of the chemical engineering department, resigned after being put under immense pressure from the university for objecting to its policies vis-à-vis the students.

Prior to this, a 'mandatory faculty retirement plan' had been put into effect to apply pressure and political control over the universities. This forced more than 50 distinguished professors into retirement or dismissal.

Professors such as Amir Nasser Katouzian, Karim Mojtahedi, Ali Sheikholeslami, Hasan Basharieh, Mahmoud Erfani, Abolghasem Gorji, Mohammad Ashuri, Jamshid Momtaz, Mohammad Reza Shafiee Kadkani, Reza Davari and several others were dismissed following implementation of this political project by university administrative departments.

On 5 April, in another confrontation by university authorities, Morteza Mardiha, a philosophy professor at Allameh Tabatabaee University, received his dismissal notice.

Morteza Mardiha and Saba Vasefi, a researcher and professor at Shahid Beheshti University were deprived of teaching on 20 January. Mardiha is a prominent political philosophy expert in Iran and the decision to dismiss him was made in the philosophy department after pressure from the university chancellor.

Mardiha was a ladder-rank faculty member and his deprivation of teaching lacked legal grounds. Saba Vasefi, a researcher, human rights activist and Shahid Beheshti University academic was also been deprived of teaching and dismissed.

Vasefi is the third women's rights activist dismissed from work over the past few months. So far, 12 distinguished academics of Allameh Tabatabaee University's economics department have been forced into retirement by the university's administration unit.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called for an immediate review of political dismissals from Iran's universities, to be followed by reinstatement.

The statement called on university professors and staff from the international community to "stand in solidarity with Iranian professors and scholars who are being ruthlessly separated from their students, their colleagues and their institutions on the basis of their peaceful political views and expressions".