Ali Akbar Mohammadzadeh, head of The Islamic Student Association at Sharif University of Technology, serving his 6-year prison sentence behind bars.
“Turn the prisons into schools of moral education.”
This statement was used in the 5-year anniversary message of the Islamic Revolution and now 23 years later, the universities have been turned into prisons. July 24th marked one year since the trial of incarcerated student Ali Akbar Mohammadzadeh, head of The Islamic Student Association at Sharif University. If in the past Ali Akbar had been told that he would one day be handed down a 6-year prison sentence, he would have no doubt laughed at the prospect.
Engaging in activism in universities has never been without a cost but arrest was usually unlikely and used as a last resort. Reflecting on the past years it is evident from the excessive punishments that the usual disciplinary and judicial actions have lost their effect on students. With the engagement of political activities among the student body, the old tactics of dealing with student activists were no longer effective and did not silence the universities. Although clearly after 3 years of suppressing the citizens and the students the roots cannot be seen, they will again show their vines when there is an opening.
After the contested presidential elections of June 2009 the threat of arrest lingered in the academic community but the students continued their activities without fear. When a university student engages in political activism, there is a distinction between the roles of the Ministry of Intelligence and the Ministry of Justice when dealing with their perceived actions. The Ministry of Intelligence regards any activity as a security risk and obtains information while the Ministry of Justice makes a judgment about the supposed threat. After the contested elections of 09 these two agencies started to join forces resulting in the Judiciary losing its independence as it corroborated with the aggressive Intelligence Ministry. Even though these agencies essentially became united they were considered to be separate entities and maybe some neglected to see that they had in fact become one.
There comes a time when one realizes he was mistaken in his assessment of the way things are in the world. Ali Akbar Mohammadzadeh and many of the student activists lost their trust in the integrity of the Ministry of Justice when they had to defend themselves under harsh interrogations then were subjected to the conduct of the judicial officials against them. The process of the court system and the surprising judgments against them caused the students to lose confidence in the integrity of the country’s judicial system.
During the show trials everyone saw the power of the forceful interrogators and witnessed how the judge handed down the juvenile and one-sided judgments that were a travesty of justice. One can write pages with specifics but the main damage has permeated beyond the judgments as the regime has shown its methods of intimidation and suppression.
The intolerance of the regime is evident in the way it has dealt with students. Where there is no tolerance there is no rational. The regime can easily control anyone by gathering information for use against the individual. If this method does not work, they resort to other pressure tactics. Students are arrested and subjected to torture in solitary confinement in order to extract false confessions about activities that are often alleged to have taken place outside the university bounderies. If they are not successful in extracting a false confession in the harsh confinements of prison, they further the punishment by handing down harsh sentences that are above and beyond the norms of what is received for the filed accusations. The severe penalty for standing up to the demands of the interrogators is being subjected to excessive prison sentences.
Ali Akbar Mohammadzadeh, head of the Islamic Student Association at Sharif University received a 6-year prison sentence that was publicized in order to serve as a threat and warning to other students without any concern about using a human being for pressure tactics against others. Of course the Ministry of Intelligence was able to kill one bird with two stones in their strategy to close down the offices of the Islamic Student Association and incarcerate Mohammadzadeh.
There have also been efforts by the establishment to misrepresent the abused students or make sure they are forgotten. The Ministry of Intelligence uses its operating powers to publish falsehoods and lies about students. This includes lies about political affiliations and character assassinations of students. There is also a concentrated effort to erase the names of the incarcerated students from memory.
The intelligence organizations are reminded of how they have failed in their endeavor when there are visits with the family of incarcerated students, visits along with family to see the students in prison, visits while on furlough, or after being released. Remembering political prisoners is the only encouragement for their families in an atmosphere where the main goal is that they be forgotten.
And now, more than 18 months have gone by since Ali Akbar’s incarceration among many others. There probably does not exist a student at Sharif University of Technology who has not heard of the name Ali Akbar Mohammadzadeh, head of the Islamic Student Association. In today’s society, civilians are familiar with the names of political prisoners much more so than in the past.
The regime might be able to incarcerate the citizens, block them from contact with the world, smear their names with scandalous lies among many other threating undertakings, but with time, people will be the judge of the truth about this regime. Their time will come.