Rights Activist Barred from University Under Ahmadinejad Faces Same Roadblocks Under Rouhani
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has blocked formerly imprisoned civil rights activist Mahdieh Golroo from attending Alzahra University in Tehran despite being accepted as a graduate student.
“I saw the letter from [President Hassan] Rouhani’s Intelligence Ministry at the University Evaluation Organization (UEO),” said Golroo in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on October 3, 2017.
“It had the ministry’s logo on top and was dated July of this year. It is patently clear that the Intelligence Ministry under Rouhani’s ‘government of wisdom and hope’ issued this letter,” she added, referring to the official slogan of President Hassan Rouhani’s first election campaign.
“I am using every available avenue to tell Mr. Rouhani and his Intelligence Minister [Mahmoud Alavi] that my right is being violated,” said Golroo. “I hope they are listening. Of course, the Science Ministry has been cooperative and is trying to find a solution, but I don’t know if the problem will be solved.”
Golroo has been blocked from continuing her university education since 2007, during the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [2005-13], when she was first banned from returning to Allameh Tabataba’i University as an undergraduate student in the field of industrial economics after engaging in peaceful student activism.
As a campaign volunteer for former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi in Iran’s 2009 presidential election, Golroo was arrested on December 2, 2009, amid the widespread protests against the outcome of that year’s disputed election.
She was released on May 19, 2012, after serving two years and four months in prison for the charges of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security.”
The activist was also arrested on October 23, 2014, a day after she attended a rally to protest acid attacks on women in Iran’s Isfahan Province. She was held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison’s Ward 2 -A, under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), until her release on January 18, 2015.
“After I passed the national university entrance exam for graduate studies, I went online to pick my subjects, but I got a message on the screen saying that there’s a problem with my application and I should go to the UEO to solve it,” Golroo told CHRI. “I really didn’t expect this to happen. I thought my problems were finally going to be over under this government. But unfortunately this shows they aren’t.”
The activist added: “I had received confirmation from Alzahra University that I had in fact been accepted. I went there and submitted some forms to get things initiated. Then I was told I have three stars on my file and don’t have permission to enroll and need to go to the UEO to get it sorted out.”
Since the early 2000s, the educational records of students expelled from Iranian universities for political reasons have been tagged with “stars” by the security establishment.
One star means students can resume their studies if they sign a pledge to stop political activities. Those with two stars must make the same pledge and accept expulsion from the university if they continue their activities. Students with three stars are disqualified indefinitely from attending university by the Intelligence Ministry.
Golroo said, “The Intelligence Ministry’s letter ordered the UEO to give me a failing grade in science, but there are some noble people working at the evaluation office and they didn’t have the heart to fail me. They are trying to resolve the issue with face-to-face talks with other officials. I am waiting for a final answer.”
“We have so many security agencies that you’re never sure which one of them is causing you problems,” she added. “One day the Science Ministry says that the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] is blocking my way. Then the IRGC summons me and says it’s the Intelligence Ministry. But the Intelligence Ministry says it’s not their fault either. They all point fingers at each other. But I saw the letter from the Intelligence Ministry.”
In June 2007, Golroo was one of about 50 students expelled or suspended from university for political activities on campus, she told CHRI. At the time, she only needed to pass her final exams to complete her undergraduate degree at Allameh Tabataba’i University.
“In the spring, the 2007 elections were held in most universities for Islamic student councils,” she said. “We organized gatherings and speeches and held our elections and as a consequence of all that we were banned from continuing our education.”
Letter to Rouhani
In December 2016, Golroo posted an open letter to Rouhani on Facebook, reminding him that he had not yet fulfilled his campaign promise of allowing expelled political students to resume their studies.
“From the very first days, you injected hope into us that our lost rights would be redeemed,” she wrote. “You emphasized a lot on improving the situation of academics and students during your presidential campaign. I remember you even once said that you would ‘resurrect the honor of universities and students.’”
“Another time you said ‘we have to get rid of the term ‘starred student.’’’ As soon as your government of ‘wisdom and hope’ came to power, I was among the first people to submit a request to be reinstated. But I have lost hope along with the years of my youth.”
“Three years after your promises, I am still banned from entering the university,” she added. “There is still a star next to my name. I keep asking myself: Where’s the honor you promised to bring back to university students?”
Speaking to CHRI, Golroo acknowledged that some banned students have resumed their education under the Rouhani administration.
“Many of my fellow students who were banned have returned to university. It would be unfair to say that this problem still exists as before,” she said. “Yes, those students who were tagged with one and two stars were given a chance by Rouhani’s Science Ministry to retake their entrance exams and go back to university, even though they had already passed these exams. They also had to pledge not to violate Islamic moral codes or any laws of the Islamic Republic, and 99 percent of those students submitted.”
“But there’s a group of us tagged with three stars still dealing with unresolved problems,” she added. “In recent years, many went back to school and got their degrees… I only need eight units to get my degree from Allameh Tabataba’i University. This is not a right I will forgo. I will never agree to close this case.”
“Right now, I’m in a new struggle trying to get accepted as a graduate student, which is a simple, natural right enjoyed by people all over the world,” Golroo told CHRI. “But we have to put in a lot of effort and energy every step of the way.”