The Guardian: University lecturers in Iran are to be forced to tell security authorities of all foreign trips in advance in a move aimed at preventing them from being recruited as western spies. The Guardian
· Fear of academics being recruited as western spies
· Security must be told even before tourist travel
Robert Tait in Tehran
University lecturers in Iran are to be forced to tell security authorities of all foreign trips in advance in a move aimed at preventing them from being recruited as western spies.
The restriction will extend to private tourist journeys and pilgrimages, as well as academic trips funded by foreign institutions. It follows official accusations that the west is trying to exploit Iranian academics for espionage purposes.
The new rule – set out in a government circular disclosed by the officially-linked Baztab website – toughens existing regulations requiring scholars to give university security services prior notice of academic trips being paid for by their own institutions. The move is the latest in a series of measures intensifying scrutiny of Iran’s academics, who have been identified by the country’s Islamic rulers as a potential fifth column in alleged US-backed plots to foment a “soft revolution”.
Last year Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, urged fundamentalist students to demand the sacking of liberal or pro-western lecturers.
In May a senior intelligence official publicly warned academics that they would come under suspicion if they maintained contacts with foreigners or travelled abroad to conferences and seminars. The official accused western intelligence agencies of trying to recruit Iranian scholars under the guise of forging scientific or academic links.
Scholars at Iranian universities say the warnings have already had the effect of drying up contacts with the outside world. “In the light of how things are developing, many people just aren’t attending seminars abroad any more. There is just too much risk involved,” one lecturer told the Guardian. “Foreign academics are no longer coming to Iran either. It’s more difficult for students of Iranian studies to get visas to come, either as part of their courses or when applying for conferences.”
Iran has recently accused three Iranian-American academics and one journalist of espionage and acting against national security. One of them, Haleh Esfandiari, Middle East director at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, a Washington thinktank, was released on bail last week after three and a half months in prison.
The suspicion has also extended to students. Iran’s intelligence minister, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ezhei, warned at the weekend that students who made contact with the US and foreigners would be “confronted”.
“We will confront those who are currently studying in universities under the guise of being students and have contact with foreigners and White House statesmen,” he said. “They will be confronted because we believe they are not university students but are seeking to destroy the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
His comments follow the arrests of several student activists in recent months.