We write you this letter to express our concern over the state of academic freedom in Iran. Ongoing cases of arrest, imprisonment, and harassment, as well as unfair educational restrictions based on gender, political and religious views, point to a disturbing record of threats to scholars and students in your country. We want to highlight some of the worst cases here, and request that your government take action to ensure that Iran is a safe environment for academic freedom and the peaceful expression of dissent.
Over 600 students have been arrested since 2009, many of them imprisoned and deprived of their educations, as a result of their political activities. We are also deeply concerned about a set of “Islamicization” regulations at Iranian universities enacted this academic year, which began on September 22, 2012, and include restrictions of enrollment in certain majors to a single gender. Thirty-six universities across the country have banned women from majoring in seventy-seven different fields. These regulations, as well as ongoing mass arrests and deprivation of the education of students, violate the right to education without discrimination, guaranteed under several international agreements to which Iran is signatory, including a UN convention against discrimination in education.
We are deeply concerned about the following scholars and students who have been wrongly imprisoned following their involvement in the 2009 election protests: Professor Saeed Leilaz, a journalist and professor of economics at Shahid Beheshti University, was convicted in 2009 of violating public order, planning to undermine the country’s security, and insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader. Dr. Mohammad Maleki, former chancellor of Tehran University, has been held in Evin Prison since 2009 on charges of “propaganda against the regime.” Abdolreza Ghanbari, a teacher of Persian literature is currently awaiting execution following the protests. Leva Khanjani, a student and member of the persecuted Baha’i religious minority, is banned from receiving further education and serving a two-year sentence in connection with her involvement in the protests. Student activist Nasim Soltan Beigi is serving a six-year sentence for “propaganda against the regime” and “assembly and collusion against national security.” Student activists Majid Tavakoli and Bahareh Hedayat are serving eight-and-a-half and nine-and-a-half years, respectively, for their involvement in the protests.
In addition to those imprisoned following the 2009 protests, a large number of student activists remain in jail either on unclear grounds or for the peaceful expression of their views. Omid Kokabee, a PhD student in physics, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in July 2012 on charges of communicating with a hostile government and taking illegal earnings. Mohsen Sanatipour, a student activist and journalist, was sentenced to one year in prison in the spring of 2012. Abolfazl Tabarzadi, a civil engineering student and human rights activist, has been serving nine months since October 2011, after being convicted of “acting against national security” and “contact with foreign media.” Student activist Javad Alikhani was arrested on May 28, 2010, and charged with “propagating against the regime,” “acting against national security,” “blasphemy,” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.” Abdollah Momeni, a student activist and spokesman for Iran’s largest reformist student organization, is currently in Evin Prison. And student activist Soroush Sabet is serving a two-year sentence in connection with his involvement in protests in 2007.
Beyond these student activists, many professors and scholars face imprisonment, torture, and execution for the peaceful expression of their views. We outline some of the most serious cases here:
Arzhang Davoodi, a poet, teacher, and cofounder of the pro-Western Confederation for Iranian Students (CIS), has been imprisoned since October 2003 and now faces fresh charges of “enmity against God,” which carries a potential death sentence. Davoodi has spent several periods of his imprisonment in solitary confinement, is at risk of torture, and has not been allowed to see his family since he was transferred to Section 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran.
Two academics and members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA), Manijeh Najm Eraghi and Dr. Fariborz Rais Dana, were arrested on June 3, 2012, and May 21, 2012, respectively. Both were charged with membership in the IWA, a group that promotes writers’ rights in Iran, and sentenced to one year in prison.
Saeed Madani, a sociologist and member of the Nationalist Religious Front, has been held without charge in Evin Prison since January 7, 2012. He has not had access to a lawyer since that time.
Massoud Sepehr, a political science lecturer at Shiraz Azad University, has been detained without charge since his arrest on November 17, 2011.
Dr. Mostafa Alavi was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by an Iranian court on August 22, 2008. Dr. Alavi is a doctor and researcher who ran a nongovernmental organization called the “Iranian Elite Association,” which sought to boost interaction between educated Iranians and global academic centers.
On May 21, 2011, in the cities of Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, and Shiraz, a series of coordinated police raids targeted the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, leading to the arrest of 30 Baha’is. The arrests constitute a blatant suppression of the Baha’i community by blocking its access to sufficient education. At a trial in October 2011, seven people connected to the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education were sentenced with prison time, including Kamran Mortezaie and Vahid Mahmoudi, who each were sentenced to five years, and Ramin Zibaie, Mahmoud Badavam, Farhad Sedghi, Riaz Sobhani, and Noushin Khadem, who each received four years.
According to reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, many of those imprisoned in Iran have been subject to abuses from prison guards, subject to degrading body searches, and many have been subject to solitary confinement and torture. We call on your government to immediately put an end to the practice of torture and the ill-treatment of prisoners in Iran and investigate those responsible for this mistreatment.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1999, states that everyone has the right “freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory, states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." We urge the Iranian government to take the necessary steps to ensure an environment of academic freedom and to release these and other scholars who have been imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their views.
We welcome your comments on the issues raised in this letter.