Rouhani Foes Target Iran Minister Seeking to Ease Student Bans

President Hassan Rouhani’s opponents in Iran have a new member of the cabinet in their sights, as they push to impeach his science minister for attempting to ease restrictions in universities.

About 50 lawmakers are seeking to remove Minister of Science, Research and Technology Reza Faraji-Dana from office. Among their reasons is the minister’s amnesty that will allow some students who were banned for political activism to return to their studies, according to the Mehr and IRNA news agencies.

Faraji-Dana was questioned in parliament over that and other criticisms on June 30, and a decision will be taken next week on whether impeachment charges move forward, Mehr reported. He is one of several members of Rouhani’s cabinet to be targeted, as lawmakers made similar moves against the ministers of energy, education and agriculture.

Rouhani was elected last year after a campaign promising to ease curbs on civil liberties. He has struggled to advance that domestic agenda even as he has resisted pressure from hardliners who also object to his foreign policy of better ties with the U.S. and allies.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has defended Rouhani’s moves toward détente and a nuclear deal, signaled support for his domestic critics in the university dispute.

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“Officials and the heads of universities must make serious efforts to prevent scientific hubs from turning into places for the activities of political groups,” Khamenei, the country’s highest authority, told a group of university professors in Tehran yesterday, according to his website. “Unfortunately there has been a time when we witnessed that.”

Iranian universities have been a hotbed for political activities, and witnessed rallies and a subsequent crackdown during the 2009 protests against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian authorities have generally been less tolerant of campus politics since then. Rouhani has criticized the “policed climate” and backed more freedom of expression for university professors and students.

As well as allowing the return of banned students, Faraji-Dana is investigating about 3,000 fellowships granted under Ahmadinejad, and has said he will cancel those that weren’t legitimate, the ISNA news service reported.

Lawmaker Qasem Jafari, one of the backers of the motion of impeachment, said Faraji-Dana’s measures are not conducive to preserving the “calm” of Iran’s universities, according to ISNA.

Defending the minister, Hojatollah Darvishpour, a member of the parliament’s education and research committee, said the attacks on him were “politically driven,” according to IRNA.

“If some individuals were illegally given grants under the previous government, and today the minister is acting against this, he should be thanked, rather than impeached,” Darvishpour said.

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