The views and claims expressed in this reporting are those of the student associations/authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of ICOIA.
INTRODUCING THE OPPRESSORS IN IRAN'S UNIVERSITIES
Since the beginning of the Woman-Life-Freedom protests, ICOIA received plenty of first-hand reports from students and university professors about the active role that Basiji academics and security forces play in oppressing freedom of speech and opinion in universities. ICOIA has compiled a list of individuals who allegedly misuse their power and academic position to oppress their colleagues as well as students.
Please bear in mind that the cases presented here are only accusations and have not undergone legal court proceedings, nor have any convictions been made yet. Please approach this information with caution and refrain from drawing firm conclusions until legal proceedings are completed.
Following the news on leaked documents of IRGC's interference in universities, it is also essential to lay out the landscape of security forces across Iran's universities and to introduce the roles that IRGC, Basij, and plain-clothed agents, paramilitary forces, and the anti-riot “police” play to oppress academics and students. In this article, we discuss how oppressors have been appointed as academics in Iran's universities. In Iran, there are several security institutions, including the Ministry of Intelligence, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the General Directorate of Security in each province, Basij bases in cities and offices, and the most powerful of which is the IRGC Intelligence Organization, which has been officially in operation since 2007 during the presidency of Ahmadi Nejad. The IRGC Intelligence considers itself responsible for dealing with political activities that are considered a threat to the security and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran's courts and the Iranian Police Criminal Investigation Department are responsible for dealing with public crimes or illegal acts.
The conditions in Iranian universities are characterized by a strong emphasis on security rather than a focus on academic pursuits. Multiple security agencies are involved in the university system, such as Basij (under the supervision of IRGC intelligence), the University Security Guard Service (under the Ministry of Information), and the Organization of Supreme Leader Representation in Universities (directly supervised by Khamenei). Furthermore, the Cultural Vice-Chancellor in universities operates as an intelligence organization under the supervision of IRGC intelligence. This deputy plays a role in approving the career advancement of academic staff members. If a staff member has a history of political or security activities, this organization may prevent their continued involvement, citing concerns about cultural and religious suitability.
Basij is a powerful security organization within Iran’s universities and offices. Basij was established by Khomeini’s order to defend the newly established clerical regime in 1980. It was upgraded to comprise one of five branches of the IRGC — with the navy, air force, ground forces, and the Quds Force representing the other four — after the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988. While much has been written about the Basij and its relationship to the IRGC and the two groups' roles in governing Iran and its economy, less is known about the younger branch, the Students’ Basij Organisation(SBO). Basij created its student branch in 1991, known as the SBO, to intimidate and confront opponents among students and faculty and to defend conservative values in Iran’s universities. The influence of the groups associated with SBO is increasing, not just as a tool used by the government to control dissident students or professors but also as an ideological institution to produce future bureaucrats for the system.
Moreover, the Basij now has 19 different branches for different social strata in Iranian universities, including the Professor’s Basij Organization (PBO). The PBO was established by the order of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution in 2001. The goals of PBO as written in its Constitution are to implement Khamenei’s orders and advice, defend the values and achievements of the Islamic Revolution, and promote religious education at universities. According to its Constitution, the PBO's budget is sourced from the wider Basij organization; the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics; the Ministry of Higher Education; and the Ministry of Health and Medical Education.
PBO's expansion was initially slow but after the presidency of one of its founding members, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this organisation took a strong position in filtering university professors and appointing many Basiji graduates to academic positions. PBO became active in politics by encouraging some Basiji professors to participate in the 2004 parliamentary election, including Mehdi Kuchakzadeh, Hoseyn Najabat, Alireza Zakani, Mohammad Khowshchehreh, Hamid-Reza Fowladgar, Fazlollah Musavi, and others. As a newly established political group, they actively supported Ahmadinejad’s presidential campaign and paved the way for his victory in the 2005 election. After 2005, Basiji members took over leading positions in universities and paved the way for others by dismissing dissident scholars and replacing them with Basiji candidates who are often academically unqualified and lack relevant credentials. For example, PBO member Farhad Daneshju fired many reformist lecturers from Tehran’s Tarbiat Modares University upon becoming Dean in 2005. The PBO is now primarily responsible for recruiting and organizing Iranian professors at universities. As the IRGC’s official weekly, Sobh-e Sadeq, emphasized in 2010, the clerical regime should do anything to recruit new professors who are most ideologically capable, irrespective of their scientific qualifications or academic capabilities. Faculty members and students who become members of Basij enjoy certain advantages. However, refusing to join Basij can be seen as a lack of loyalty to the system and Velayat-Faqih, leading to severe personal and professional consequences.
As a division of the Basij and the IRGC, the Basij asked the PBO to implement the Change and Development Plan (Tarh-e Tahavvol va Ta‘ali), which prescribed the intensification of ideological training in the PBO and the expansion of PBO activities in Iranian society. Basiji professors uphold the principles of the clerical regime, striving to eliminate any dissenting views from universities and replacing them with their own set of ideologies. They also employ university students and train them for 'soft warfare' in order to prohibit any so-called Western ideas, esp. in humanities.
As pointed out by Saeid Golkar in an article, “To conquer the universities with Basiji professors,28 several laws were passed to increase the number of PBO members managing universities. For instance, in 2005, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution passed a regulation announcing that the chief of the Professors’ Basij clubs in each university should be a member of the school’s “cultural council” (showra-ye farhangi). According to the regime, these councils are responsible for strengthening and deepening students’ ideological and religious foundations according to Islamic values and principles, and creating an appropriate environment for bringing up “sublime human beings.” The councils have a broad range of duties, including the administration of all cultural activities on campuses, such as publishing newsletters and holding cultural ceremonies, including Nowruz celebrations, ‘Ashura ceremonies, other religious observances, and student meetings. It is interesting to note that, in addition to the head of the PBO, the head of the SBO is also a member of this council." [Source: University under Siege:: The Case of the Professors’ Basij Organization, by Said Golkar, Download the full article here]. As also pointed out in that article, there have been plenty of reports of some Basiji professors belonging to PBO using grades as leverage over supposedly dissident students. According to one report, a PBO member failed a reformist student who was active in Mir Hossein Mousavi’s presidential campaign in 2009 [Read full article: Punishing Stars: Systematic Discrimination and Exclusion in Iranian Higher Education].
During recent Woman-Life-Freedom protests, various threatening messages and emails were sent out by PBO academics to students and their colleagues to create fear and oppress them. On some occasions, threats were made combined with verbal harassment and behavioural misconduct. For example, a PBO member at Iran University of Science and Technology, Hossein Salehzadeh, describes students who are on strikes as worthless even less than a sneeze of a goat and threatens them that they will be evaporated soon.
As another piece of evidence, we have received a snapshot of a message sent by Ali Ilkhani Pournaderi, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kerman who encourages Basiji students to be on their toes to trigger fire if required in order to protect the Islamic regime.
The strong presence of the PBO, SBO, and the Employee Basij Organization (that looks after university office staff), stands to reason that the IRGC is spreading its power across Iran's educational institutions to manipulate the student population and suppress reform-minded academics who express different views.
By using the Basij organisation across various universities in Iran, the IRGC has indirectly called for a "second cultural revolution" at universities due to the ongoing activism of the Left Student Movement and the Pro-Democracy Liberal Students Movement. The IRGC wishes to rid universities of any dissenting or non-Islamic perspectives by deeming them inappropriate. This creates an atmosphere that only supports Islamic ideals and worldviews, denying any other views a platform. In line with this, during Ahmadinejad's initial term in office (2005), the government implemented a controversial policy of expelling students and getting faculty members to retire from universities. This policy was met with enthusiasm from the administration. This presents a systematic ideological "school" aiming to groom future mid- and upper-level managers of the regime. With more and more of the Iranian government in the hands of former IRGC and Basij members, SBO helps entrench the ruling clerical establishment in power. This warrants further attention.
The IRGC exercises significant control over various aspects of Iranian society, including the economy, commerce, industry, culture, social affairs, religion, and politics. The IRGC has played a key role in the regime’s brutal campaign against Iranian democratic movements in the past (1999, 2009, 2017, and 2019) and during the current round of protests. During the 1999 student demonstrations, the IRGC forces and its Basij militia killed several students, injured hundreds, kidnapped dozens, and arrested more than a thousand. The IRGC has been furthering its military nuclear project research using universities and academic institutions as a cover. Academic institutions are now a common method used by the IRGC to attain nuclear weapons and to keep the regime's nuclear projects clandestine. The IRGC runs the Imam Hossein University, a vital part of the country's nuclear program.
IRGC has been heavily influencing university campuses across the country. This has caused far-reaching negative repercussions beyond attacking scholars and using paramilitary forces to quell demonstrations. In essence, the IRGC acts as a major barrier to developing an environment of intellectual freedom across Iranian universities. Environments created by the IRGC in universities that stifle the free exchange of ideas can have a damaging impact on Iranian society as a whole. Such restrictions make it difficult for scholars to express their thoughts and find innovative solutions to present issues. In contrast, in a free and democratic nation, critical thinking is essential for cultural evolution along with scientific advancement.
Not long after the Islamic regime took power in 1979, the theocratic regime launched a so-called "Cultural Revolution" in Iran's universities and dismissed many high-quality university professors who were either secular or opposed the absolute madness that the Islamic regime had initiated. The events that followed the closure of universities for more than three years are beyond imagination. Interested readers are invited to read the article entitled "Confessions of a Green Notebook" to get a grasp of the oppressions during the early years of the Islamic regime in 1980s. [Download the full article here]
Since then, the pervasive presence of IRGC and its Basiji members has continued to create an atmosphere of fear and pressure at universities and hence has made them a preeminent authority for putting pressure on student activists and academics, imposing penalties and charges on students and professors and forcing them to undertake research and development of military equipment including nuclear power technologies and drones likes of which have been used against Ukraine civilians.
In May 2023, the European Union (EU) sanctioned two entities including the Student Basij Organization (SBO), which acts as the IRGC’s violent enforcer on university campuses, and the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, which has been at the forefront of the crackdown on protests in Iran [Source]. ICOIA supports these sanctions and emphasises the necessity of expanding these sanctions to include PBO in other countries worldwide.
International Community of Iranian Academics (ICOIA)