SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: December 11, 2017

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In December 2017, Iranian authorities acknowledged banning 27 students from graduate programs, in apparent retaliation for alleged political expression.

Since 2005, Iranian authorities have periodically engaged in the practice of identifying student activists by marking their names with a star in official documents, and preventing many of those students from continuing their university programs. Students who receive one star may enter university after signing a document pledging not to engage in any political or social activism. Two stars indicate that students will be suspended and may be interrogated by the Intelligence Ministry. Students who receive three stars are subject to a lifetime ban from higher education.

In addition to the 27 students who have been banned from their programs, authorities have reportedly acknowledged that 151 PhD students and 398 master’s students had been “starred,” but were allowed to move forward in their educational programs after signing pledges to refrain from engaging in political activity.

Notwithstanding the official statistics, independent rights organizations allege that as many as 150 to 200 students have been “starred” and banned from academic activity.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about expulsions, suspensions, and related pressures against students in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to free expression. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Expulsions, suspensions and related pressures at limiting such activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.