Stars of Deprivation
In August 2006, one year after Ahmadinejad won his first term of presidency, a new round of purges began to expel critical students from Iranian universities. Despite receiving admission to graduate programs from government-run universities, about 1,500 student activists ran into difficulties at the time of registration; some stars had been marked in front of their names, and that meant their registration would be conditional. A large number of these students were able to register after strict guarantees that they would refrain from any political activities at university, but 17 of them, whose names had been conjoined with stars, were banned from continuing their education. The number of these students, who are known as “starred students,” has been on the rise each year.
The Council to Defend the Right to Education, which was later formed by the students who were prevented from studying, published the names of 58 students who have received stars from 2006 to 2008.  In addition, more than 30 students, despite being admitted to Master’s programs, were declared “scientifically unqualified.”  These numbers only include those who have spoken publicly about their deprivation of the right to study. Many other students have remained silent because they are either threatened by security forces or given promises by the Ministry of Science that their restrictions will be removed.
This year, although a short time has passed since the results of the entrance exam for Master’s programs were announced, various reports indicate that stars have been handed to more students.
Since 2006, the Iranian government has persistently denied the trend of banning certain students from pursuing their studies. In his first reaction to a question from one student in this regard, Ahmadinejad mockingly called the starred students “1st lieutenants.”  Afterwards, the Ministry of Science and the Sazeman-e Sanjesh (Organization for Evaluating Education) were quick to brush aside the existence of any starred students. During the debates among the presidential candidates last year, Ahmadinejad even went as far as to link the problem of starred students to previous governments and claim that this issue had been resolved by his administration.
Ali Gholizadeh, one of the starred students in 2009, says: “It is interesting that when I referred to Sazeman-e Sanjesh, an official in this organization’s selection committee acknowledged that the action against me had been illegal. He stressed that since this trend was illegal, the government’s officials denied the existence of any starred students in their interviews and debates.” He was alluding to Ahmadinejad, who had denied the whole issue in his debates before the presidential election.”
The members of the Council to Defend the Right to Education, who tried to expose the lies of the head of state by organizing demonstrations and issuing statements a few days before the election, were jailed and sentenced to heavy prison terms. Mahdieh Golru, Zia Nabavi, Majid Dari and Shiva Nazar Ahari are members of this council who are still in prison.
Suspension from education
Another method the regime employed in the past year to purge certain students from universities is a temporary suspension from studies. Through this method, the universities’ disciplinary committees suspend students for a specific period (for example, one or two semesters). In many cases, even after this period of suspension ends, the disciplinary committees hand new punishments to the students in order to lengthen the period of their studies and, thereby, lead to their expulsion.
During the last five years, the regime has utilized this method systematically to get rid of students they deem ‘dangerous’. According to reports by human rights activists, in the last year alone close to one thousand students were banned from education through this method.
Furthermore, some time ago, Shahid Beheshti University’s disciplinary committee banned 60 students from studying for their protest against the presence of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the university.
“I have tried all legal, political and civic means. In legal terms, I presented my case to the Administrative Justice Court, but after one year of ceaseless efforts, my complaint was rejected. In political terms, I wrote letters to the system’s officials, the MPs, and the directors of Ministry of Science; I also contacted the media and tried to get the news of my situation published in the press. Many students who are banned from studying have done the same. Some students have even held demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Science and the Islamic Consultative Assembly. But these activities have not changed anything; none of us has been allowed to return to university.” These are the words of Farshid Moghadam, a starred student in 2007 who never succeeded in acquiring his transcript.
Zia Nabavi, a starred student and member of the Council to Defend the Right to Education, who was imprisoned for his activities a week after the election, was one of the students who had filed a complaint at the Administrative Justice Court. However, the Administrative Justice Court declared him unfit to study at university by basing its verdict on recommendations by the Minster of Science.
Another starred student says, “When they refused to issue my transcript by making an excuse that my file was incomplete, I appealed my case to the Committee for the Selection of Professors and Students at the Ministry of Science. For a while, they promised my case would be resolved if I did not take the matter to the media. But after one year, they shamelessly told me that I did not deserve to study in a Master’s program.”
The goal: intimidation and elimination of critical forces
Farshid Moghadam explains the regime’s intention behind this approach: “The Iranian regime wants to control the universities completely in order to wipe out all opposition and criticism by the university, students and professors.”
Ali Gholizadeh, who, in spite of clinching the 43rd rank in one program, was prevented from registration, believes: “The regime’s goals in starring students and banning them from studying are manifold. The most important of these goals is the obstruction of critics and dissidents from achieving scientific and social growth; the dominant regime in Iran wants this growth only for its own supporters. The next goal is to spread the seeds of fear and dismay among all students by banning a small group of them. The regime wants to make examples of these students.”
Searching for a solution
From the very first year of the purges began, the banned students tried to regain their lost rights through individual or group efforts. A member of the Council to Defend the Right to Education believes that, although these efforts have not succeeded in bringing back the banned students to university, they have acted as a type of resistance against the escalation of this human rights violation.
This student, who himself has been a victim of successive suspensions, says: “Until last year’s election, our activities had at least compelled the regime to be more discreet and cautious in this respect. After the election, the regime changed its approach and began its unbridled attacks on students. That is why the number of banned students is on the rise every day.”
The regime’s harsh treatment of the individuals who are affiliated with the Council to Defend the Right to Education, and its intolerance for this group of critics after the election brings this question to mind: how can the lost rights of this group of students be restored? Or at least, what tactics can block the growth of this trend?
Gholizadeh points to the role of international university and human rights institutions and concludes: “These institutions must put pressure on the Iranian government, and especially the Ministry of Science, to end the trend of banning students from studying in various academic levels.”
Another starred student, who gained one of the ten top ranks in the entrance exam for Master’s programs last year but was banned from registration, adds: “Universities from around the world should take a position on the international level to deal with this problem effectively. Student organizations from across the globe should do the same. They must demand that their governments put pressure on the Iranian government and judiciary to restore the trampled rights of all banned students in Iran.”
While continuing their efforts, some of these students regard admissions and bursaries from various world universities as a possible solution. One of these students says: “This tactic will both restore the rights of banned students and thwart the regime’s plan to obstruct the growth of critics.” He believes: “At the moment, not much can be achieved without international assistance and intervention, although we must not, under any circumstances, desist from fighting for our rights inside the country.”
According to their ranks and transcripts, the banned students in Iran are among the best talents in the country, but the regime, with its dogmatic outlook, is bent on impeding their progress at any cost. However, they have maintained their critical position while endeavoring to regain their rights.
 Advarnews, "The Letter of 20 Starred Students to the Speaker of Islamic Consultative Assembly."
 Daneshjoo News, "The Applicants Entering Master’s Programs Received Stars and +++"
 Khabar Online, "The Debate between Ahmadinezhad and Karrubi."