International call to stop assaults on academic freedom

Seventeen human rights organisations and education groups have called on Iran to uphold the right to education and to immediately address the alarming state of academic freedom in the country.

In particular, there have been violations of rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly on campuses, and institutionalised procedures that allow authorities arbitrarily to expel and suspend students, and fire graduate instructors, on the basis of their political views or activities.

In a statement published on 31 May, the rights groups say: “Over 600 students, as well as some university lecturers, have been arrested since 2009, many of whom have subsequently been imprisoned and hundreds deprived of education as a result of their political activities.”

The organisations strongly urge the Iranian authorities to fulfil Iran’s international obligations to ensure respect for the right to education and academic freedom by:

  • Releasing immediately and unconditionally all Iranian students and higher education personnel who have been jailed for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including educators at the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education, and those who have expressed political opinions.
  • Ending the identification and targeting of students due to their beliefs, or their religious, political or civic activities, and revising regulations for admissions and ‘disciplinary committees’ to ensure they uphold and respect the principles of free expression, assembly and association.
  • Removing all intelligence units and Basij paramilitary units from university campuses.
  • Allowing peaceful, independent Iranian student organisations to operate freely and without interference from government authorities and organs.
  • Abolishing discriminatory policies against women, including the quota system that restricts women’s participation in higher education; gender segregation, which may lead to women experiencing discrimination in higher education; and restrictions on campuses and fields of study in which women can enrol – and ending enforcement of clothing standards that violate the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.
  • Abolishing all policies and practices that discriminate against or otherwise violate the rights of religious and ethnic minorities in Iran, particularly the Baha’i community, including with regard to their access to higher education and academic freedom.
  • Ending the practice of hiring, promoting or firing higher education teachers based on their personal and political opinions, and establishing independent university committees to review and reinstate professors who have been dismissed on ideological and politically motivated grounds.
  • Ensuring that the governance, curricula and procedures for enrolment in universities are independent of government control and free from ideological vetting, including by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, and that they adhere to international standards of academic freedom outlined by UNESCO and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Iranian Professor Muhammad Sahimi, a chemical engineer at the University of Southern California, welcomed the statement.

“The world community, and in particular academia, must become the voice of those who have been suppressed in Iran. The plight of Iranian students, professors and scientists must be brought to public view.

“The discriminations against them based on ideology must be revealed. And their expelling from universities, forced retirement and imprisonment must be protested vigorously, at the highest level,” Sahimi told University World News.

Puyan Mahmudian, a researcher at United for Iran, a non-partisan global network for promoting fundamental human and civil rights in Iran, told University World News that the statement would raise both domestic and international awareness of the situation regarding academic rights in Iran.

“As a former Iranian student activist, I would say a big portion of academics in Iran are not aware of their rights being ensured by international laws and treaties to which Iran is a party.”

Mahmudian emphasised that Iran had obligations under international law and must be held accountable, and said the statement would up pressure on the Iranian government to respect academic rights and the right to education.

He argued that international governmental and non-governmental organisations should be more active in supporting academic freedom in Iran. Universities in democratic countries should set preconditions for cooperation with Iranian universities, to pressure their administrations – which are selected and appointed by the government – to abide by international standards.

“International solidarity will give inspiration to Iranian academic rights activists,” Mahmudian concluded.

John Daly, a science and technology consultant and former director of the office of research at USAID, told University World News: “Academic institutions outside Iran should make a special effort to offer places to Iranian students who seek education abroad and to employ Iranian academics who chose to emigrate to obtain academic freedom.”

Gissou Nia, executive director of the US-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, said that to ensure the statement’s objectives are implemented and not “discarded as mere rhetoric”, UN rights bodies such as the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which have taken a passive role in pushing for progress in Iran, should take up this cause.

“While UN member states are often at loggerheads over claims that calls for reform are hegemonistic ambitions shrouded in a human rights agenda, academic freedom is an issue that should unquestionably rise above any claim of partisan politics – and UN bodies, such as ECOSOC, should insist that the Iranian authorities uphold the right to education in all its forms.

“Additionally, at the global level the academic profession should stand in solidarity with the students, professors and institutions in Iran that are affected by discriminatory and repressive policies,” Nia told University World News – as do worldwide movements that support doctors and journalists under attack.

“Reputable academic institutions worldwide should support their counterparts in Iran and publicly demand that the Iranian government respect the rights of its students and professors to academic freedom,” he argued.

Nia said his centre had been harnessing new media to provide human rights education to the masses, in the form of short, instructive video clips and manuals that explain what human rights standards are and what actions potentially violate those standards.

The documentation centre believes that such projects helped to educate at the grassroots level and “patch the gaps in a curriculum, particularly outside urban centres, that may not focus on these issues in any depth, if at all.

Source: freedom messenger

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