Iranian Hawk Swoops on Universities to Crush Dissent
Robert Tait, The Guardian:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is cracking down on Iran's universities in an effort to crush a student pro-democracy movement and strengthen the hardliners' grip on power. Leading student activists have been jailed or expelled from their studies, and lecturers have been sacked, while the government has proposed subjecting academics to strict religious testing.
The authorities have also begun a programme of burying the bodies of unknown soldiers on campus grounds in what student leaders say is a thinly disguised attempt to bring religious extremists into the universities on the pretext of holding "martyrs' ceremonies". Students fear that such a presence will be used to violently suppress their activities.
In one recent incident students at Tehran's Sharif University were attacked by plain-clothed Basij (religious volunteers) during an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the burial of three soldiers from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war inside the campus mosque. The incident was overseen by Mehrdad Bazrpash, a close aide to Mr Ahmadinejad and a former Basij leader.
The event took place against a backdrop of speeches by Mr Ahmadinejad, a former university lecturer, stressing the need for "martyrdom" in Iran's confrontation with the west over its nuclear programme.
Student leaders say the developments amount to a takeover of the universities by Mr Ahmadinejad's ultra-conservative forces. The campuses were hotbeds of pro-democratic protest during the presidency of the former, reformist leader, Mohammad Khatami. "They want to gain hegemonic control over the universities, which have always been important in influencing the social and political atmosphere and which normally support pro-democracy rather than authoritarian forces," said Abdollah Momeni, an activist appealing against a five-year sentence imposed for leading a student protest. READ MORE
"Through burying martyrs on campus they open the doors for the entry of armed militias and thus add the universities to their fiefdoms."
Other activists have had their studies terminated after the intervention of Iran's intelligence services. Students also say they have been denied permission for low-level political activities that were allowed during Mr Khatami's presidency.
The purge has extended to academics and university administrators. One political science lecturer was dismissed for belonging to a human rights group.
The chancellor of Tehran's Science and Industry University resigned in protest at government interference. Mr Ahmadinejad has also been accused of overturning an established practice of appointing chancellors and faculty heads from academic staff in favour of trusted cronies. A radical cleric was recently appointed to head Tehran University.