Parliamentarians call for release of detained students

With Iranian authorities still refusing to release exact figures of the number of people detained during protests in a number of Iranian cities in December and early January, Iranian lawmakers as well as academics have written to President Hassan Rouhani and the country’s head of the judiciary Sadegh Larijani calling for the immediate release of student detainees.

The two letters were revealed during a parliamentary hearing on 26 January. The letters said prolonged detention, particularly of female students, could cause additional problems for the regime.

The arrests were made by the country’s two main intelligence organisations: the Intelligence Ministry, which answers to President Rouhani, and the Intelligence Organisation of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps or IRGC, under the control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and over which Iranian lawmakers have little influence.

Neither the intelligence ministry nor the judicial authorities have released the names of detainees. Anecdotal accounts put the number of university students jailed at between 90 and 140. Officials have admitted that 3,700 arrests in total resulted from the demonstrations.

On 30 January Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Ramani Fazli said fewer than 300 people remained in custody after the recent unrest. He claimed “no university student” was being held in custody in Tehran, Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported, but he added, “according to reports from cities and provinces, no student has remained in jail for their participation in the recent riots, but if the ministry of science and also health ministry have a case in mind, they can introduce them to us and we will pursue their situation.”

The ministry of science, which has been following the student arrests, reported last week that “90% of the students” jailed during the unrest have already been released.

Criticism by parliamentarians

Student arrests in particular have been criticised by parliament, science and higher education ministry officials, and university chancellors.

A dozen members of the Iranian parliament were only allowed to visit Evin Prison on 30 January, where many detainees have been held, after a previously scheduled visit for 28 January was cancelled due to ‘poor weather’. MPs criticised the authorities for only allowing the visit three weeks after it was first requested.

Jasmin Ramsey, spokesperson for the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, which on 5 January released the names of 43 university students known to have been detained, said: “We don’t know how many are still in prison of that number. The authorities feel no pressure to provide accurate numbers or any numbers, or even the names.”

“There is a lot of confusion about who is arrested and who is not arrested. Now we are getting these big numbers of who is being released and we are not being told who is being kept inside,” Ramsey said.

“There are people in these prisons without any guarantee that their due process rights will be observed, specially if the government decides to accuse them of national security crimes.”

Many students not involved in the demonstrations but who were present on university campuses were swept up in the wave of arrests during the crackdown by security authorities, in part to prevent any alliance emerging between university students and the economically underprivileged who made up the core of demonstrators.

“I have precise information that some of the detained students were not even in the protests, reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi tweeted on 5 January.

“In the beginning government officials announced that some of these student arrests were ‘preventative’, and that they were going to be released soon,” Ramsey said. “It is absolutely absurd to arrest someone before they have even done anything.”

The unrest, which began on 28 December and lasted more than a week, led to at least 25 people being killed. In early January Education Minister Mohammad Bathaei expressed sorrow about the deaths of two teenage students, Armin Sadeghi and another student identified only as “Shayan”, both of whom lost their lives during the unrest.

Photo: Protests on 2 January 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons