IRAN: Barred for my activism, with no legal recourse

I was previously a member of the student union and the Islamic Student Association at Amirkabir University. I was also the executive officer and editor-in-chief of the student publication Rivar for which I wrote articles on culture and politics, critical of the government and in favour of democracy and human rights.

Security forces detained me in 2007. I was later released on bail and during the same year took the graduate entrance examination. I should add that after my release, I continued my student activism.

In 2008, the results of entrance exams were posted on the internet and I achieved the sixth highest score in the country. In the summer of 2008, officials from the Central Selection Committee contacted me. I was told to go to the Herasat Office.

Abdolrasoul Pour-Abbas, director of the Sanjesh Organisation, the academic measurement bureau of the Ministry of Science, and a professor of mathematics at Amirkabir University, told me it was not a big issue and that representatives of the Herasat Office wanted to talk with me. I accepted and met them.

Herasat Offices are found in most public facilities and all universities, and are representatives of the Ministry of Intelligence and state security apparatuses.


There were three meetings, which were really like interrogation sessions, with people who claimed to represent the Herasat Office of the Ministry of Science. Dr Mourtaza Noorbakhsh, Director of the Faculty and Students Selection Committee, believed they were intelligence ministry agents.

In the first two meetings, two men confronted me in an unfriendly and threatening manner. They wanted me to accept false confessions regarding my student publications and wanted me to send a letter to the judiciary denying that I was tortured while in detention.

During the second meeting, they even threatened to detain me. I confirmed that I was tortured and refused to deny it.

At the third meeting, they changed their manner. They had very comprehensive information about me and became friendlier. They said if I ceased political activism and stopped talking about my detention and torture, I should be able to continue my education.

They also offered that I collaborate with the Ministry of Intelligence and meet their agents on a weekly basis...they said if I agreed, they would give me guarantees that I would have no problems in pursuing my graduate degree. I accepted ending my political activities but refused to collaborate with them.

I contacted several Ministry of Science officials and members of parliament to report these meetings to them. Noorbakhsh promised there would be no problems. However, when the science ministry announced the names of students who were permitted to register at the university [for graduate studies] I did not qualify.

I immediately started to follow up this development. I went to Sanjesh and met with Noorbakhsh again. He expressed regret at my disqualification and said it was based on an article of admissions regulation that states: "An applicant who is an enemy of the state shall not be qualified." That's all he said and he asked me to keep it quiet for few months and not make any noise. He again promised to resolve the issue.

I was told it was the intelligence ministry's decision to disqualify me, regardless of my academic record. Interestingly enough, Noorbakhsh explicitly told me: "When the intelligence ministry is involved, there is nothing that I can do."

No legal recourse

I publicised my case in the media and met members of the Council for the Right to Education [an advocacy group formed by students barred from continuing higher education] including Mahdieh Golroo and Zia Nabavi...I also met human rights lawyer Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, who told me there were no legal avenues for pursuing my case.

A few months before my disqualification, other 'starred' students barred from education [for political activism] filed a complaint with the High Court but received an answer that the court cannot adjudicate their case because the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution was formed based on Ayatalloh Khomeini's orders and its decisions are above the law and cannot be evaluated by the Supreme Court.

I, for one, pushed very hard [for legal recourse] through members of parliament, through the Supreme Leader's University Representative Office, through the Sanjesh Organisation authorities etc, but I didn't accomplish anything.

I also went to the education committee of the Iranian parliament headed by Dr Ali Abbaspour, who had been a professor at my university and so I knew him already. And I met some judicial officials.

At parliament's education committee, and through help from Abbaspour, a file was opened for 'starred' students. What was interesting was that representatives from the Ministry of Intelligence refused to attend the sessions, so that file never got anywhere.

Basically, there are no legal avenues for objections. When the highest judicial authority in the country, the High Court, shrugs off responsibility, there is no place else to go.

The problem is that the Sanjesh Organisation does not accept responsibility either, saying that the decisions have been the Ministry of Intelligence's call, and that objectors must gain the ministry's satisfaction and agreement. But there are no defined ways for contacting the ministry to submit an objection.

Generally, after a while, the reply was something like this - they expressed regret and sadness that a student with my kind of high ranking was 'starred'. First, they promised to follow up. After a while they would say: "We tried, the issue is a Ministry of Intelligence issue. The Ministry of Intelligence is insisting on your case."

I tried very hard to obtain a written notice regarding my exclusion from education but the authorities never submitted any such the end they made a friendly recommendation to leave the country to pursue higher education abroad.

* Puyan Mahmoudian is currently enrolled in a postgraduate course in polymer science at the Free University of Berlin, Germany.

* These edited extracts first appeared in Punishing Stars: Systematic discrimination and exclusion in Iranian higher education, published by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran in December 2010, and are reproduced here with permission.

For more on 'starred' students click here