Follower of Sufi Order Expelled From Iranian University After Refusing to Sign Pledge
Sepideh Moradi Sarvestani, a member of the Gonabadi Dervish Sufi order, was expelled from Tehran’s Tarbiat Modares University on February 3, 2018, for refusing to formally pledge not to engage in activities deemed unacceptable by officials.
“She was not engaged in any activities. She was only busy with her studies. But the Science Ministry knows she’s a dervish and there’s a systematic effort in the Islamic Republic to expel them from universities and places of employment,” Kasra Nouri, a spokesman for Majzooban Noor, the official website of the Gonabadi Dervishes, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 7, 2018.
“The authorities don’t want the dervishes to be recognized in society. They are afraid of their presence in universities,” he added.
Sarvestani was a second-semester graduate student in computer science when she was summoned to the university’s disciplinary office and asked to sign the pledge.
“When a student has passed the enrollment exam and been accepted by the university and has not violated any rules in her first semester, why should she sign a pledge? They are not asking all students to make this pledge, only the dervishes,” Nouri told CHRI.
“The form stated that the student must pledge to comply with all ethical, ideological and political principles within current laws and regulations, especially the university’s disciplinary rules,” he added. “If the student takes any action to the contrary, his or her enrollment could be nullified by the relevant authorities.”
He continued: “Sepideh refused to sign the new pledge form and told the disciplinary committee that it violates the universal right to education and she has done nothing wrong. Sepideh had selected her classes for the second term but a month later she was blocked from logging into the university’s online portal.”
Nouri, who is a graduate student in human rights studies at the University of Tehran, said he had also been asked by the university to sign a similar pledge but had refused.
“I am waiting to see what happens,” he said. “So far there has been no problem and I am still going to the university.”
Nouri and four other members of the Sufi order were arrested on December 30, 2017, while visiting fellow mystic Hamidreza Moradi at Day General Hospital in Tehran. They were held in Evin Prison’s Ward 209, which is under the control of the Intelligence Ministry, for several days before being released.
Three other Gonabadi dervishes have been expelled from Iranian universities in recent years: Afshin Yadollahi (Shiraz Azad University law student), Mostafa Daneshjoo (Tehran University graduate student in criminology), and Zahra Ghalandarinejad (Bandar Abbas Azad University graduate student in financial management).
The Gonabadi Dervish interpretation of Islam differs from that of Iran’s ruling Muslim Shia establishment. The Islamic Republic views any alternative belief system, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia establishment and has imprisoned members of the Sufi order for their faith.