MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on Iran

12 May 2014

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mr. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10017, USA
Email: iran@un.int
Fax: +1 (212) 867-7086

Your Excellency,

I write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) to express our grave concern regarding the six-year prison sentence recently imposed against Mr. Hamid Babaei, a doctoral student of finance at the University of Liège in Belgium. We respectfully urge the authorities in Iran to grant Mr. Babaei access to a fair and impartial appeal hearing, and to overturn convictions related to his academic activities, resulting in his release.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The Committee on Academic Freedom has learned that Mr. Babaei was arrested in August 2013 after attempting to return to Belgium following a summer visit in Iran. Reports indicate that after four months in detention, including three weeks of solitary confinement, Mr. Babaei was sentenced on December 21, 2013 to six years in prison for allegedly acting against national security by communicating with a hostile government. It is reported that the sole evidence for this charge is the scholarship funding which Mr. Babaei has received from the University of Liège, where he is completing a doctoral degree in finance. According to reports, Mr. Babaei, who also holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran, has been pressured to make a false confession under duress, but has repeatedly denied the charges against him.

We consider Mr. Babaei to be a scholar at risk. His arrest, detention, and conviction are violations of Iran’s obligations under constitutional and international laws. The rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory. We call on Iran to ensure that the principles of academic freedom, in accordance with national and international laws, are upheld with regard to Mr. Babaei and all scholars.

In light of the numerous arrests of other academics throughout Iran in the years since the June 2009 election, Mr. Babaei’s prolonged detention and conviction on the basis of his studies at the University of Liège represents yet another instance of infringement upon academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge and free expression of views without fear of reprisal in the Islamic Republic. We find this episode particularly disturbing since the administration of recently elected president Hassan Rohani has repeatedly promised a more open and free atmosphere for scholars in Iran and has signaled its support for unfettered opportunities for scholars to express and exchange their views internationally on the world stage. The MESA Committee on Academic Freedom denounces these continuing violations of internationally accepted rights to academic freedom in Iran and calls on the Islamic Republic to ensure that Hamid Babaei receives a fair opportunity to appeal his sentence before an impartial tribunal and that any charges or convictions related to his academic activities are lifted, allowing for his immediate release.

Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
President

cc:       
Ayatollah Sadeqh Larijani, Head of the Judiciary
The Honorable Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


3 January 2013

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o  H.E. Mohammad Khazaee, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to
the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
662 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Email: iran@un.int
Fax: +1 (212) 867-7086

Your Excellency,

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern regarding the imprisonment and maltreatment of Omid Kokabee, a doctoral student in physics at the University of Texas at Austin.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

MESA has learned that Mr. Kokabee was arrested in February 2011 during a visit to Iran and incarcerated at Evin Prison without clear charges or a trial. After Mr. Kokabee had spent 15 months in prison, one of them in solitary confinement, his case was finally brought before a judge in May 2012. The Tehran Revolutionary Court found Mr. Kokabee guilty of having communicated with a hostile government and having received illegitimate funds. After refusing to make a public confession, Mr. Kokabee was sentenced to 10 years in prison. At no time during the trial was Mr. Kokabee allowed to meet with his lawyer. Mr. Kokabee has repeatedly denied all the charges made against him and clarified that the contacts alleged in the charges actually consisted of normal professional interactions with international scholars. He has also stated that the allegedly illegitimate funds he received concern a publicly accounted for scholarship for his graduate studies. Although no conclusive evidence was presented at court to substantiate the charges, Mr. Kokabee’s sentence was upheld by the court of appeal in August 2012.

In addition, it has come to our attention that Mr. Kokabee’s health has been deteriorating in prison, but he has been denied necessary medical attention. The reported lack of medical care, as well as the long incarceration without charges, a long delayed trial, obstruction of contact between the accused and his lawyer, and the appeal being upheld despite unsubstantiated charges are violations of basic human rights and international standards of due process, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. Most importantly, they are also violations of Iran’s 1979 constitution, which states in Article 32 “No one may be arrested except by the order and in accordance with the procedure laid down by law. In case of arrest, charges with the reasons for accusation must, without delay, be communicated and explained to the accused in writing, and a provisional dossier must be forwarded to the competent judicial authorities within a maximum of twenty-four hours so that the preliminaries to the trial can be completed as swiftly as possible. The violation of this article will be liable to punishment in accordance with the law.” We urge the government of Iran to uphold its obligations to the people of Iran, and to uphold its international obligations.

MESA condemns this latest instance in Iran of the government’s infringement upon academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge and free expression without fear of reprisal.  MESA urges Iran to preserve the rights of its nationals to travel and pursue academic research, as well as to support unfettered exchanges between scholars across the world.  MESA calls on you to defend the principles of academic freedom in Iran and to take all appropriate measures to secure the immediate release of Omid Kokabee and the lifting of any charges and convictions related to his academic activities.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:       
Head of the Judiciary
Sadeqh Larijani
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh
(Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave. (south of Serah-e Jomhouri)
Tehran 1316814737
Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: info@dadgostary-tehran.ir

Committee of Concerned Scientists, Inc.
c/o Sophie Cook
400 East 85th Street, Apt. 10K
New York, NY 10028
Email: sophiecook@earthlink.net

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
United States Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520 USA

The Honorable Navanethem Pillay
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

September 04, 2012

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran

c/o H. E. Mohammad Khazaee, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
662 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Your Excellency,

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) in protest of the recent decision to ban women from certain university courses in the Islamic Republic of Iran under the guise of the implementation of gender segregation at universities.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

MESA has learned that 36 universities across Iran have announced that 77 Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science courses in the coming academic year will be "single gender" and effectively exclusive to men. It has been reported that under the new policy, women undergraduate students will be excluded from a broad range of studies in some of the country's leading institutions, including courses in mathematics, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, chemistry, urban development, English literature, English translation, archaeology, accounting, and management, among many others. The University of Tehran, we have come to understand, will now accept only male applicants for subjects relating to natural resources, forestry and mathematics. Although the new restrictions were not reported until August 2012, and were not mentioned in previously distributed university catalogues, the changes will take effect in the upcoming academic year. These new restrictions placed on women's unfettered access to education seem to have been prompted by orders from Iran's Ministry of Higher Education urging gender separation at universities, a plan that has reportedly been confirmed by the Parliament's Research and Education Committee, although a number of parliamentarians as well as civil society leaders have expressed their opposition to these measures. MESA considers such arbitrary policies to be forms of gender discrimination and obstacles to the right to the unrestricted pursuit of education in Iran.

According to UNESCO, Iran has the highest ratio of female to male undergraduate students in the world. Women have thrived as students and become prominent in traditionally male-dominated courses and fields, including those in the sciences. The growing academic success of women in Iran, and their pursuit of equal access to education, has been recognized as one of the progressive outcomes of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The equal rights of women in schools and universities are part of a long tradition of advancements in women's education in Iran, with precedents harkening back to the Constitutional Revolution and the Mashruta movement a century ago.

According to Article 3 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran: "the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has the duty of [providing] free education for everyone at all levels, and the facilitation and expansion of higher education," as well as "strengthening the spirit of inquiry, investigation, and innovation in all areas of science, technology, and culture… by establishing research centers and encouraging researchers." Article 21 of the Constitution affirms that, "the government must ensure the rights of women in all respects, in conformity with Islamic criteria, and . . . . Create a favorable environment for the growth of woman's personality and the restoration of her rights, both the material and the intellectual." The recent decision to ban women from certain university courses violates both of these articles. It is also in direct violation of the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities of Women in the Islamic Republic, ratified in 2007 and introduced in a statement by H. E. Mrs. Fatimah Ajorloo, Member of Parliament, Islamic Republic of Iran, at the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women held in New York on 24 February 2011 as "the comprehensive model for Iranian women based on Islamic values, enacted in the agenda of the decision-making bodies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with emphasis on spirituality, justice, security and advancement . . . . ratified by the legislative bodies of the country." According to Clauses 76-78 of the charter, women in Iran possess the right to a high standard of learning and higher education through to the most advanced academic levels.

MESA urges in the strongest possible terms that the right of women to education in Iran be fully protected and preserved. MESA calls on the Islamic Republic to ensure the equal access of women to education in all fields of the curriculum at universities across Iran, and to degrees at all levels. We trust that you appreciate the gravity of defending the principles of academic freedom and critical intellectual inquiry in Iran, and will take all appropriate measures in securing and protecting the full rights of women to education.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc:

Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, Head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

 

September 04, 2012

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran

c/o H. E. Mohammad Khazaee, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
662 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Your Excellency,

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern over recent restrictions on the academic freedom of scholars in Iran who sought to attend the ninth biennial conference of the International Society for Iranian Studies in Istanbul, Turkey on August 1-5, 2012.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

MESA has learned that articles published recently in Kayhan, a newspaper under the direct supervision of your office, have falsely labeled the International Society for Iranian Studies conference in Istanbul as an event organized by "Royalists," "Zionists," and "Baha'is," creating an atmosphere of intimidation for scholars in Iran scheduled to attend the conference.

The International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS) is an independent and non-political academic organization that seeks to promote scholarship in the field of Iranian Studies and to encourage and facilitate scholarly exchange amongst its international membership. ISIS publishes Iranian Studies, a journal covering the history, literature, culture, and society of Iran and the Persianate world, and convenes a biennial conference for the international community of scholars, students, and researchers in the field of Iranian Studies. The conference, usually held in a North American city, was staged in Istanbul this year in the interest of facilitating the attendance of Iran-based scholars, as Iranians with passports do not require visas to enter Turkey.

Although the 2012 ISIS conference in Istanbul brought together reputed scholars in the humanities and social sciences from around the world, in the weeks leading up to the conference articles printed on the pages of Kayhan wrongfully disparaged it as an ideologically-driven gathering of critics of the Islamic Republic, in an effort to curtail the participation of scholars from Iran.

Over seventy scholars from Iran were originally scheduled to take part in discussions on a wide array of topics ranging from late antiquity to modern Iran. Following the groundless allegations in Kayhan, over fifty scholars from the University of Tehran, the University of Isfahan, Al-Zahra University, Payam Noor University, the Islamic Azad University system, and other institutions cancelled their plans to take part in the ISIS conference, and some signed a list of boycotters. Subsequent articles in Kayhan called on government officials to take actions to prevent Iranian scholars who still planned to attend from participating in the conference. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of Kayhan, called for the Ministry of Sciences, Research and Technology "to terminate the presence of [the remaining scholars planning to attend the ISIS conference] in the nation's universities and institutions of higher learning immediately and without delay." In response, official statements from the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology discouraged scholars from participating. Following these events, many of the remaining scholars scheduled to attend the conference withdrew from the gathering. As a result, at least thirteen panels had to be cancelled, and at least twenty others were cut short due to the absence of Iranian scholars.

MESA regards these restrictions placed on Iranian scholars and their right to freely participate in an academic conference to be yet another sign of the widespread limits currently placed on academic freedom and the ongoing intimidation of intellectuals and students at universities and institutions of higher learning across Iran.

The open pursuit and free expression of knowledge and ideas, without fear of reprisal and discrimination are guaranteed under Iran's Constitution. They are also recognized as fundamental liberties in international instruments that Iran has accepted or to which it is party. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education. MESA urges the authorities in Iran to work towards and protect the free exchange of ideas, freedom of expression in all forms, and the unrestricted pursuit of academic research without fear of intimidation and persecution.

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc:
Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, Head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran,
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


September 02, 2011

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H. E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
662 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Dear Ayatollah Khamenei,

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern about the arrest and detention of Ramin Zibaei, a scholar at the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education in Tehran.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

MESA has learned that Ramin Zibaei was among several scholars and faculty members at the Baha’i Institute of Higher Learning detained in a raid in late May 2011. According to reports, at least thirty Baha’is were arrested in coordinated raids in Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz. MESA is alarmed and disturbed by these widespread efforts to exclude the Baha’i community from pursuing and gaining access to higher education in Iran.

The Baha’i Institute of Higher Learning is an online university established in 1987 to provide education to Baha’i students, who are prohibited from attending universities and government sponsored institutions of higher learning in Iran on the grounds of their religion. Mr. Zibaei has taught at the institute for the past eight years as a member of the psychology department and was the dean of the social science faculty at the time of his detention. Since his arrest last May, Mr. Zibaei has not been permitted access to legal counsel, in violation of international law and standards of due process.

We consider Mr. Zibaei a scholar at risk. MESA joins with many other independent and international academic associations in demanding that Iran uphold its legal obligations, both domestic and international, in the case of Mr. Zibaei and his colleagues at the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education. The rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which Iran is a signatory. Under article 18, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion . . . .No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair their freedom to have or to adopt a religion of their choice.”

We regret and are deeply troubled by the widespread limits placed on academic freedom and the ongoing intimidation of intellectuals and student activists at universities and institutions of higher learning across Iran since the disputed elections of 2009. The preservation of academic freedom is integral to the fabric of civil society. The open pursuit and free expression of knowledge and ideas, without fear of reprisal and discrimination are internationally recognized as fundamental liberties to be guarded at academic institutions of higher learning and on university campuses. MESA urges authorities in Iran to grant Mr. Zibaei, pending his release, access to family, legal counsel, and medical treatment. More broadly we call on the government of Iran to cease targeting scholars and academics on ideological, political, and religious grounds.

Sincerely,
Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies
University of California Davis

cc:
Head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

November 10, 2010

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Dear Ayatollah Khamenei,

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our deepening concern over the exceedingly harsh treatment of student activists and the blatant disregard for freedom of expression on university campuses across Iran.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa.  The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide.  MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Since the disputed election of 2009, the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran have intensified their repression and persecution of non-violent student activists and scholars on and off university campuses.  Hundreds of students on campuses throughout Iran have been banned from study, arrested, given arbitrary and harsh sentences, imprisoned, and tortured by authorities. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all students and scholars of conscience imprisoned in Iran for their political views and non-violent activism.

We are gravely concerned about the targeted detention and maltreatment of students and activists belonging to a number of student organizations, including those belonging to the peaceful national student organization Office for Fostering Solidarity (daftar-e tahkim-e vahdat). The numerous student activists of this group currently imprisoned include Bahareh Hedayat, Shabnam Madadzadeh, and Milad Asadi.  Hedayat, a former student of economics at Tehran University and a member of the central council of the Office for Fostering Solidarity, was imprisoned on 31 December 2009, during the mass arrests that took place following the Ashura demonstrations.  She was charged with various national security offences on grounds of her defense of student rights and criticisms of Iranian officials during a visit to the Netherlands earlier in the month.  Hedayat is currently serving a nine and a half year sentence at Evin Prison.  She was recently also charged with “disturbing public order,” and could now face an additional year of imprisonment and 74 lashes.  Madadzadeh, a former student at Tarbiat Moallem University and a vice-secretary of the Office for Fostering Solidarity, is reportedly in critical condition as she serves a five-year prison sentence in the notorious Rajai Prison in Karaj.  Illegally arrested in February 2009 and later charged with “actions against national security,” she has been detained in prison ever since.  Asadi, an engineering student at Khajeh Naser Toosi University of Technology in Tehran and also a member of the central council of the Office for Fostering Solidarity, was arrested shortly before the National Student Day demonstrations that occurred on 7 December 2009 and has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment.  He too was recently brought to trial again on additional charges.

Other members of the Office for Fostering Solidarity to face a significant degree of government persecution include Mehdi Arabshahi and Morteza Samyari.  Arabshahi, a student at Allameh Tabataba’i University in Tehran arrested on 27 December 2009 during the Ashura demonstrations, was released on bail last March after having suffered a heart attack while detained and has yet to stand trial.  Arrested on 4 January 2010, Samyari, a suspended student from the University of Sistan and Baluchistan, was sentenced to a five-year prison sentence and kept in solitary confinement at Evin before being released on bail. Members of this student activist organization remain targets of persecution by authorities.  Last week, Ali Gholizadeh, a banned student at Shahrud University of Technology and a member of the Office for Fostering Solidarity was arrested without a warrant in Mashhad.   

We also again call for the release of Majid Tavakoli, a student of marine engineering and a member of the Islamic Studies Association at Amir Kabir University in Tehran.  Arrested after making a speech on National Student Day on 7 December 2009, he is currently serving an eight and a half year prison sentence and has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison.

We are deeply troubled by continued reports of the ill treatment and poor health of student activists.  Some of them are held captive in inhumane conditions in “exile” prisons, distant from their families in the provinces of Iran. We are concerned for the health and well being of Zia Nabavi, a banned honors student at Babol Nushirvan Technological University in Mazandaran Province and a member of the Council for Defending the Right to Education, who was reportedly recently placed in solitary confinement and severely beaten in the Ahvaz Prison.  It is reported that Hamed Rouhinejad, a philosophy student at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran who suffers from multiple sclerosis and was imprisoned before the summer elections of 2009 for allegedly participating in political demonstrations, has been moved against doctors’ orders from Evin Prison to a campground prison in Zanjan with no medical facilities and is on the verge of dying. According to reports, Majid Dori, a banned student at Allameh Tabataba’i University and a founding member of the Council for Defending the Right to Education, who was arrested and imprisoned in June 2009, is suffering from poor health at Evin and is currently in solitary confinement awaiting transfer to the even harsher confines of the Ahvaz Prison. Hundreds of other students at large have been detained, expelled, and summoned to court for their conscientious demands for freedom of expression on university campuses in Iran.  

These disturbing cases of maltreatment of innocent students and the mounting reports of other detentions and abuses present clear evidence of the climate of intense intimidation and the thorough disregard for the freedom of expression that are pervasive on and off university campuses in the Islamic Republic of Iran today.        

The preservation of academic freedom is integral to the fabric of civil society.  The open pursuit and free expression of knowledge and ideas, without fear of reprisal and discrimination are internationally recognized as fundamental liberties to be guarded at academic institutions of higher learning and on university campuses. Moreover, we are compelled to remind you again, that the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory. The MESA Committee on Academic Freedom denounces these egregious violations of academic freedom in Iran and calls for the unconditional release all students unjustly held in prisons throughout the country.

Sincerely,

Roger M.A. Allen
MESA President 
Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania

cc: 
Head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

October 12, 2010

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. 
New York, NY 10017

Dear Ayatollah Khamenei,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). This time, I write to you in regards to the most recent spate of harsh and unwarranted sentencing by Iranian authorities of a number of prominent Iranian scholars, intellectuals, and academic rights activists. I also would like to remind you again of our ongoing concern with the fate of hundreds of detained academics, members of teachers unions, non-violent students’ rights activists and other defenders of academic rights, journalists, scholars, and intellectuals at large in the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as our grave concern with the continued intimidation and expulsion of many educators, students, and administrators at Iranian universities and schools on ideological grounds. We are also deeply troubled by the harassment and detentions of the legal representatives of these individuals and human rights and women’s rights activists by the authorities (as in the case of the arrest of the prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh in September). For past CAF-MESA letters on Iran, see: http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/caf/letters_iran.html

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

In this letter, I would like to particularly draw your attention to the continued persecution of Mr. Emadeddin Baghi and the announcement by Iranian authorities on September 21, 2010, that he has been sentenced to an additional six years imprisonment. Mr. Baghi is an internationally-renowned independent scholar and a prolific author, a prominent journalist, and a leading human rights and prisoners’ rights defender, who also has campaigned against capital punishment and torture in Iran. He is a recipient of prestigious international human rights awards, including the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2009. He has previously served jail sentences totaling 4 and ½ years since May 2000 for his peaceful advocacy of human rights in general and his endorsement of freedom of expression, his founding of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights (ADPR) in 2003 – which has been banned by the authorities–, and his Quran- and Shari’a-based scholarship in opposition to the death penalty. Moreover, he has been repeatedly harassed by the authorities, has had many of his publications banned, and over the past decade he has been summoned to court more than 80 times on grounds of his various peaceful activities, none of which have been in violation of the rights guaranteed in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mr. Baghi was again detained on December 28, 2009, reportedly on grounds of his having conducted an interview in 2008 with the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who was a leading clerical advocate of greater political, social, gender, and religious rights in Iran. Mr. Baghi spent much of his recent detention in solitary confinement. In July 2010 he was sentenced to one year in prison along with a 5 year subsequent ban on his participation in civic and political activities due to his defense of prisoners’ rights. Following that sentencing, Mr. Baghi, who is currently on leave from prison on bail because of serious heart and kidney ailment (aggravated by his treatment in prison), was summoned to the revolutionary court again in September 2010 and informed that he had been handed yet another sentence in August, this time for an added term of six years in prison. The most recent sentence was allegedly in reaction to his having endangered state security by conducting the interview with Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, which was aired on BBC Persian in January 2010 (following Montazeri’s death in December 2009), as well as for such activities as contacting UNICEF in connection with children’s rights and the execution of juveniles in Iran. His arrest in December coincided with widespread arrests of journalists, scholars, human rights activists, feminists, student’s rights activists, and various non-violent political rights activists in Iran, such as the journalist, feminist, and human rights activist Shiva Nazar Ahari, who is also a member of the Council for Defending the Right to Education. Although Ms. Nazar Ahari has been released on bail, she too was sentenced in September 2010 to six years imprisonment and 74 lashes for her peaceful advocacy of women’s rights. In the case of Mr. Baghi, as his interrogation and trial proceedings indicate, he was clearly targeted for his scholarship on, and sponsorship of, the abolition of death penalty and torture, as well as for his defense of prisoners’ rights.

We consider Mr. Baghi a scholar at risk and a victim of state persecution. MESA joins the many other independent, non-partisan international organizations in demanding that Iranian authorities rescind the current sentences meted out to Mr. Baghi and end the willful and ideologically-motivated harassment of Mr. Baghi.

Sincerely,

Roger M.A. Allen
MESA President 
Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania

cc:
Head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)


May 26, 2010

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. 
New York, NY 10017

Fax: (212) 867-7086

Dear Ayatollah Khamenei,

I write you once again on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our profound outrage at the recent death sentences and executions, as well as continued harassment, imprisonment, and expulsions targeting university faculty and administrators, teachers, and non-violent student activists in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We are gravely alarmed and disturbed by the Iranian government’s escalating and increasingly brutal violations of academic rights and the most basic rights of freedom of opinion and expression since our last letter to you on February 9, 2010 (http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/caf/letters_iran.html).

We are distraught over the recent executions of 5 prisoners on May 9, among them the Kurdish teacher and social justice activist Farzad Kamangar, a member of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association. Kamangar had been arrested in 2006 and condemned to death in 2008 on the alleged charge of belonging to an armed separatist Kurdish organization and involvement in a series of bombings -- at a trial that lasted only a few minutes and during which no substantiating evidence was presented by the prosecution in support of these allegations. Moreover, all of these executions by hanging were carried out without prior notification to the accused, their families, or their legal representatives. During their detention, all of these individuals (Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Shirin Alam Hooli, Farhad Vakili, and Mehdi Eslamian) were subjected to torture in an attempt to extract self-incriminating confessions from them.

Even while these executions continue to be harshly condemned by the international community, the revolutionary courts (with the full sanction of the head of the Iranian judiciary, Sadegh Larijani) have been handing down excessive, unwarranted sentences to many of the hundreds of teachers, university faculty, and students rounded up since the contested election of June 12, 2009. These cruel and harsh measures, fully endorsed by other officials such as Tehran’s prosecutor-general Abbas Jafari-Doulatabadi, are widely seen not only as a continuation of the official policy of silencing peaceful critics of the state, but also as additional means of creating an atmosphere of fear with the approach of the anniversary of last summer’s large-scale demonstrations in Iran in the aftermath of the presidential election.

In addition to harsh interrogation tactics, routine torture, forced self-incriminating confessions, and long prison sentences, the judiciary of the Islamic Republic has been zealous in accusing detained individuals of being “mohareb” (i.e., one who wages war against God) and sentencing them to death. We find extremely reprehensible the increasingly recurrent application by the Iranian judiciary of the noxious designation of mohareb, which carries the death penalty, particularly when sentencing individuals arrested for peaceful expression of independent thought (guaranteed by the constitution of the Islamic Republic as well as the UN Declaration of Human Rights) or for other acts that do not otherwise merit drastic sentences under the Iranian law. Among those currently awaiting execution for allegedly being a mohareb is the teacher Abdul-Reza Ghanbari. He was arrested during the Ashura street protests of December 27, 2009 for chanting anti-government slogans and was subsequently tortured, accused of belonging to an armed anti-regime organization, tried without access to an independent legal representative, and sentenced to death by hanging. We ask that this sentence be overturned immediately. While we welcome the recent commutation (to 3 ½ years imprisonment) of the original death sentence handed down to 20-year-old student activist Mohammad-Amin Valian of the central council of the Islamic Student Association of Damghan Science University, who had confessed to throwing stones at the security forces attacking the demonstrators during the Ashura street protests, we urge the Iranian judiciary to consider even greater lenience for Mr. Valian.

Since our last letter, there has been a chronically worsening climate of state-sponsored intimidation and persecution in the Islamic Republic of student activists, university and school instructors and administrators, intellectuals and scholars at large, as well as artists, trade unionists, and human rights and gender rights activists on patently ideological grounds. Teachers’ rights activists and members of teachers’ unions and councils have also been targets of systematic persecution. Many have been summoned to court and fined or sentenced for their peaceful advocacy of improved work conditions, better pay and benefits, greater job security, and/or criticism of the government’s mistreatment of colleagues or student activists. The many teachers currently in detention on spurious charges include Hashem Khastar, a retired teacher and head of the Mashhad Teachers’ Trade Union Center, who was arrested in June 2009, released a few weeks later, and then rearrested again on September 16. He is reported to be in poor health and lacking access to adequate medical care while in prison. Other jailed teachers’ rights campaigners include Mohammad Davari, Rassoul Bedaghi, Ali-Akbar Baghani, Ali-Reza Hashemi, Mahmoud Beheshti Langaroudi, Hossein Bastaninejad and Ghorban Ahmadi. The arrests and intimidation of teachers’ rights activists were stepped up with the approach of Labor Day and Teachers’ Day celebrations in Iran (on May 1 and May 2 respectively).

Student groups and education rights groups singled out for intimidation and persecution by the state include the Council for Defending the Right to Education, the Islamic Student Association, and the Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity (daftar-e tahkim-e vahdat), many of whose members are routinely arrested and/or fined, beaten, expelled from universities, and threatened by the authorities. We are particularly concerned about the case of Kouhyar Goudarzi, an expelled Sharif University (Tehran) student and a member of the alumni association of the Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity as well as a member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters and a former member of the Islamic Student Association, who was arrested on December 20, 2009 on his way to the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. He was recently transferred to solitary confinement and his lawyer has been informed that his court file is missing. We are also anxious about the deteriorating health of the detained vice-secretary of the Tehran branch of the Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity, Shabnam Madadzadeh. Two senior members of the same organization, Bahareh Hedayat and Milad Asadi (arrested in December 2009 for criticizing the government), were sentenced on May 20 to 9 ½ years and 7 years imprisonment respectively. The recent harsh and unjustified jail sentences meted out to student activists and to former students banned from continuing their education inside Iran also include 3 years for Arash Sadeghi, 1 year for Mohammad Youssef Rashidi, 15 years for Ali Kantoori, 4 years for Mehdi Khoda’i, 1 year and 74 lashes for Ali-Reza Azabad , 15 years for Ziaoddin Nabavi, 28 months for Mahdiyeh Golrou, 1 year and 74 lashes for Peyman Aref, 4 years for Hessam Salamat, 6 years for Majid Dorri (Nabavi, Golrou, Aref, Salamat, and Dorri are members of the Council for Defending the Right to Education), 9 years for Arsalan Abdi, 3 years for Saman Nouranian, and 6 years for Pouya Ghorbani, whose brother and wife were also arrested (his wife being sentenced to 2 ½ years imprisonment).

All of these detainees have reportedly been subjected to physical and/or psychological torture, including threats made against their families, as in the case of Ghorbani and Abdi. In the case of the latter, the authorities threatened to detain and harm his sisters as a means of extracting false confession from him. Hundreds more detained students currently await sentencing under similar conditions for non-violent activities and participation in street demonstrations, and many of them are being denied access to urgent medical care. These include the (Tehran) Allameh Tabataba’i University student Hamed Omidi, who was arrested for condemning the execution in November 2009 of a Kurdish activist Ehsan Fattahian. Omidi, who was previously tortured, was severely beaten following his condemnation of the recent executions of Kamangar, Heydarian, Alam Hooli, Vakili, and Eslamian on May 9.

The process of expelling student activists from university campuses and of “starring” and banning students from continuing their education inside Iran continues unabated. Among the most recent examples is the expulsion of five students from Shiraz University on May 18 (Esmail Jalilvand, Kazem Reza’i, Abdoljalil Reza’i, Hamdollah Namjou, and Younes Mirhosseini). There has also been a recent upsurge in the dismissal or forced resignation and retirement of university faculty and administrators as well as school teachers. These actions are indicative of an ongoing campaign to remove from campuses and schools those educators and students considered ideologically insubordinate to the state and at odds with the policies of the current Iranian administration. Some of the university faculty purged more recently via dismissals or pressured resignations and retirements include Dr. Morteza Mardiha of the Allameh Tabataba’i University and Dr. Touraj Mohammadi, Dr. Mohammad Shahri, and Dr. Sayyid Ali-Asghar Beheshti-Shirazi of the Elm-va-San‘at University. Among other dismissed faculty at various universities are such distinguished professors as Mohammad Reza Shafiee-Kadkani, Saba Vasefi, Mahmoud Erfani, Amir-Nasser Katouzian, Reza Davari, Karim Mojtahedi, Ali Sheikholeslami, Hassan Bashiriyeh, Abolghassem Gorji, Mohammad Ashuri, and Jamshid Momtaz. We deplore public statements by government officials that openly call for “cleansing” university campuses of those deemed ideologically disloyal to the state on grounds of upholding secular worldviews, not adhering to the particular interpretation of Shi’i Islam advocated by the Iranian state, or diverging from the state’s political ideology, as in the repeated statements made by the controversial minister of Science, Research, and Technology, Kamran Daneshjou (http://www.payvand.com/news/10/mar/1051.html &http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/2009/09/exclusive_paper_authored_by_ir.html).

These cases comprise only some of the random examples of the extensive and heightened persecution by Iranian authorities of independent-minded academics, scholars, students, and intellectuals, as well as the more broad-ranging callous violations of the basic rights of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and human rights by the authorities. Among others, we are particularly apprehensive about the fate of Shiva Nazar Ahari. Nazar Ahari, a prominent human rights and women’s rights activist and journalist belonging to the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, is also one of the Islamic Republic’s thousands of “starred and banned university students” and a member of the Council for Defending the Right to Education. She was arrested on December 20, 2009 along with Goudarzi and others en route to the funeral service for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. She has served prior jail sentences and is now being falsely accused by the authorities of belonging to a terrorist organization aiming to overthrow the Iranian regime, a pernicious allegation frequently made by the authorities against non-violent activists whom they seek to silence (with the charge carrying one of the harshest possible sentences under Iranian law).

In addition to these developments, which paint an increasingly bleak picture of the conditions in Iran, we stress once again that we remain concerned about the fate of those student activists, teachers, university faculty and administrators, and scholars and intellectuals arrested earlier on an array of unsubstantiated charges and who are still in detention. Among these are the student activist Majid Tavakoli, the former chancellor of the University of Tehran Dr. Mohammad Maleki, and the social scientist and researcher Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh. Tavakoli, a member of the Amir Kabir University of Technology’s Islamic Student Association, was arrested following a speech he gave on December 7, 2009 (during the commemoration of the National Student Day in Iran), and was subsequently sentenced to 8 ½ years imprisonment. Tavakoli, whose health has been fast deteriorating in recent weeks, began a hunger strike on May 23 after being transferred to solitary confinement. The 77-year-old Maleki, arrested on August 22, 2009 and currently released on bail, is facing the charge of “mohareb,” which carries the death sentence. Tajbakhsh, our internationally renowned and esteemed colleague, was arrested on July 9, 2009 and sentenced in October 2009 to 12 years imprisonment on the fabricated charge of espionage and endangering national security. We ask for the immediate revocation of all charges against these individuals.

We remind you as well that the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21) guarantee the basic rights of freedom of thought and expression. The Islamic Republic of Iran is currently by far one of the worst perpetrators of violent state-sponsored infringement of academic rights. We hope you will take the initiative to remedy these conditions and will respond to our letter. We also ask you to reflect on the ethical, moral, and social dimensions and ramifications of the injustice committed by Iranian authorities and the suffering inflicted on innocent people.

Sincerely,

Roger M.A. Allen
MESA President 
Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania

cc: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)


February 9, 2010

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. New York, NY 10017

Fax: (212) 867-7086

Your Excellency,

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). We write in order to express our grave concern over the violent treatment, arrest, and harsh sentencing of students and activists across Iran since the Ashura demonstrations of late December 2009.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Following the violent response of government security forces during the Ashura protests, in which at least eight people were killed and hundreds more arrested, there have been continued attacks on university campuses and arrests of students, academics, and intellectuals throughout Iran. Students have been summoned before disciplinary committees, expelled, and detained for their political views, spreading a climate of fear on restive campuses throughout the country. In addition, a number of students and faculty have been arrested and sentenced to unjust prison terms. MESA is committed to the respect and protection of basic rights of freedom of speech, opinion, and scholarship, as well as the right to non-violent assembly, on university campuses. We again urge Iranian authorities to implement and guarantee the full rights of academic and intellectual freedom and the right to peaceful assembly on Iranian campuses.

At MESA we are alarmed by the following recent developments within Iran: In January 2010, Majid Tavakoli, a student and member of the Islamic Student Association at Amir Kabir University in Tehran, was sentenced to eight years in prison for giving a speech on National Students Day. Over the last month, hundreds of university students have been arrested on campuses in such cities as Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz, Qazvin, and Tabriz, among others. It is reported that on February 3, 2010, the philosopher, translator, and journalist, Omid Mehrgan, was arrested in his home in Tehran and taken to an undisclosed location, while the journalist and human rights activist, Kaveh Ghassemi Kermanshahi, was arrested at his home in Kermanshah. In general, we are concerned for the fate of the countless university students, writers, scholars, and activists arrested and detained throughout Iran since demonstrations during the month of Muharram.

In recent months, security forces have violently sought to put down student movements that have been building since the June 2009 elections and saw their latest manifestation on Ashura. Amidst the escalating violations of human rights by government security forces, we find the statements by Iran’s national chief of police, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, to the effect that the era of “mercy” and “tolerance” is over, to be shocking and disturbing. Even more reprehensible was the January 29 Friday sermon in Tehran by Ayatullah Ahmad Jannati calling, in unprecedented fashion, for the speedy execution of post-election protesters. It is inconceivable to us that such a high ranking cleric and the chair of the Guardian Council would use Friday prayers to make such inhumane, inflammatory, and shortsighted statements that cast doubt on the legitimacy of the judiciary system.

Moreover, we continue to be deeply concerned regarding cases about which we have written to you in the past, including: the arrest and conviction of scholar Kian Tajbakhsh; the continuing arrests of students belonging to the Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity (daftar-e tahkim-e vahdat), as well as other student activists at the University of Tehran and Sharif University in Tehran. Four students belonging to the Office for Fostering Solidarity have been detained and face the charge of muharib (as waging war against God), which carries the death penalty, without being allowed access to lawyers. We are compelled to remind you again, that the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory. The politically motivated persecution and maltreatment of students on university campuses constitutes a direct violation of the principles of academic freedom and critical intellectual inquiry.

Your Excellency, this latest letter of ours coincides with the thirty-first anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. We hope you recognize the students and activists seeking reforms today are not only kindred to the political activists of three decades ago, but also the heirs of the now century old movement for freedom and representative politics in Iran. We call on you again to protect the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly on university campuses and throughout Iran. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Roger M.A.Allen
MESA President
Professor of Arabic & Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania


December 14, 2009

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. New York, NY 10017

Fax: (212) 867-7086

Your Excellency,

I am once again writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). This time, we write to you in regard to the December 7, 2009, national Student Day anniversary in Iran, which was marked by large-scale violence carried out against protesting students across the country by the Iranian security forces.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

This is the sixth occasion on which we have written to you in 2009 to voice our profound concern and frustration with developments in Iran (for our previous letters, see: http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/caf/letters_iran.html#Iran091026 ).

In the weeks leading up to the December 7 national Student Day, Iranian authorities carried out a campaign of targeted intimidation against student activists, including “anonymous” threatening e-mails, and resorted to arresting student leaders, a number of them rounded up during domicile raids in the middle of the night. Those arbitrarily detained across the country in the period leading up to the Student Day anniversary have included members of the Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity (daftar-e tahkim-e vahdat) and Liberal Students of Iranian Universities, among other targeted groups and individual activists at large. Moreover, for the past few months the authorities have stepped up the policy of militarizing the university campuses through the heavy presence of the Basij militia units (with a corresponding expansion of Basij recruitment efforts in many high schools around the country). To carry out its premeditated violence against the students on December 7, the Iranian government resorted to a news blackout and disruption of internet and other communication services. Still, some news of the large-scale suppression of student protests has reached the outside world.

Based on the limited available news, during the December 7 commemoration of Student Day on campuses throughout Iran, the assorted security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran joined the campus security forces, which frequently receive directives from the infamous Basij militia units, in brutally attacking unarmed student protesters with tear gas and an array of weapons, leading to many injuries and arrests. In an attempt to conceal from the public both the extent of student unrest on campuses as well as the magnitude of the security forces amassed at the entrance of the university campuses in preparation for the organized attacks against the students, the authorities made use of large banners draped around the campus entrances, as well as parked buses. Hundreds of students were rounded up in the violent nation-wide crackdown (at least over 200 in the capital alone, according to the Tehran police chief), with many still remaining in detention.

On December 8, the day after the Student Day anniversary, thousands of government security forces, joined by the Basij militia and the campus security forces, once again unleashed their wrath against activist students at a number of Iranian universities, launching sweeping unprovoked raids (including at the universities of Tehran and Shahid Beheshti in the capital) and engaging in violent acts ranging from tear-gassing the buildings and storming the classrooms to physical assaults (using stun guns, batons, metal bars, and even broken glass, among other weapons) and arresting scores of students. Subsequent clashes between the security forces and students have taken place on other university campuses across the country at the instigation of the security forces.

In short, the Islamic Republic has succeeded in creating an unprecedented reign of terror on Iranian university campuses. The government has ironically transformed every annual Student Day commemoration of the original 1953 killing of three students at the University of Tehran by the last shah’s security forces into renewed and more vicious episodes of terrorizing students. In effect, every annual Student Day itself is now commemorated anew for the extensive victimization of students by the authorities. We remind you again that currently the Islamic Republic of Iran ranks as one of the worst state violators of the basic and constitutionally-guaranteed rights of freedom of opinion and expression, with a fast-deteriorating record of wholesale assault on academic and intellectual freedom as well as persecution of non-violent student activists and scholars; including routine acts of intimidation, expulsion, detention, arbitrary sentencing without access to due process of law, harsh interrogations and torture, and killing of non-violent student activists, as well as harassment, dismissal, forced early retirement, and arrests of faculty members on ideological grounds. We also would like to remind you that on December 8, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, issued a letter to the Iranian government, reproaching it for intensifying its repressive measures and for its lack of tolerance toward dissenting views.

We find it additionally reprehensible that, on December 8, the regime’s notoriously hard-line prosecutor general (and former chief of the Intelligence Ministry, who has been linked by many independent human rights observers to numerous cases of torture and deaths in detention), Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei, announced that in future the families of arrested protesters may be denied the right of appeal (which is in violation of Iranian law). Moreover, notwithstanding the repeated warnings ahead of the December 7 Student Day by various officials and the chiefs of Iranian security forces and the Basij militia, to the effect that protesters will be dealt with by the full and unmitigated force of the state, we find equally disturbing the prosecutor general’s statement purporting that “Iranian security forces so far have exercised great self-restraint when dealing with protesters.” Leaving aside the general level of brutality exhibited by the Iranian security forces, particularly since June 2009, it baffles the imagination to consider how many more unarmed students must be shot and killed in cold blood in their dormitory rooms, how many thousands more non-violent student activists and protesters must be beaten, detained, and subjected to torture, before the prosecutor general finally concedes that the security forces have abandoned all self-restraint and are dealing with protesters in a ruthless manner. We regard such statements by Iranian officials as nothing short of additional public intimidation and the escalation of the regime of repression.

Given such statements, we are gravely concerned with the judiciary’s treatment of the detained student activists. In light of the statements made by the prosecutor general and the already incurred notoriety of the Islamic Republic for routinely illicit and heavy-handed treatment of student activists, we are extremely anxious about the well-being of the detained students, the range of fabricated charges that may be brought against them, and their right to fair trial in the event formal charges are filed against them. We are particularly concerned with the treatment of the many student leaders detained as part of targeted arrests leading up to and since the Student Day anniversary, among them Abbas Hakimzadeh of Amir Kabir University in Tehran (arrested on November 19, and having served a prior sentence for his peaceful student activism), Babak Ghiyasi of Razi University in Kermanshah (abducted on December 1), Milad Assadi of Khaje Nasir Toosi Technical University in Tehran (arrested on December 2), Majid Tavakoli (arrested on December 7 at Amir Kabir University in Tehran, and having served two prior prison sentence for his non-violent student activism), and Sohrab Karimi of Tehran University (arrested at home in his hometown of Qurwa on December 8, and also having served two prior prison sentences for his activities). In addition, in recent weeks the authorities have stepped up their harassment and arrests of members of the university students’ alumni association known as Advar.

We also continue to be concerned about the fate of our internationally-respected colleague Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, and the former chancellor of the University of Tehran, Dr. Mohammad Maleki, who remain in detention since their arrests last summer, with both of them having served prior prison sentences on unsubstantiated charges. Dr. Tajbakhsh was arrested on July 9 and sentenced to more than 12 years on October 20 on the clearly mendacious charge of endangering national security. The Revolutionary Court has announced recently that additional charges are being brought against Dr. Tajbakhsh. Dr. Maleki, the first post-revolution chancellor of the University of Tehran, who is seventy-six years old and suffers from advanced prostate cancer, was taken from his home on August 22 on as-of-yet unclear charges. His trial got underway on December 12.

The continued callous attitude of Iranian authorities toward wide-scale official infringements of basic academic rights and peaceful freedom of expression (in contravention of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Iranian constitution) will not shield the Iranian regime from future criticism or stringent monitoring by MESA. We very much hope that your government’s emissary at the United Nations, the ambassador Mr. Mohammad Khazaee, has been faithfully conveying our correspondence to you and that you will take the time to read our letters and respond. MESA will continue to document and publicize violations of academic freedom by the Iranian authorities.

We urge you again to immediately halt all unwarranted repressive measures against non-violent dissenting students, faculty, and scholars at large; to free all detained students and scholars serving sentences for non-violent expression of opinion, and to assure their well-being and full access to independent legal representation and due process of law while they remain in detention; to fully investigate and prosecute the officials and security agents responsible for unprovoked acts of intimidation and violence directed against student protesters and academics; and to provide full public guarantee of the basic rights of freedom of expression and opinion, as well as the right of students and faculty to organize independent associations and engage in peaceful assembly on Iranian university campuses. As the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, you are ultimately responsible for the actions of Iranian government officials, including the president, and the security forces, including the Basij militia.

Sincerely,

Roger M.A.Allen
MESA President
Professor of Arabic & Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania


26 October 2009

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations 
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. 
New York , NY 10017

Fax: (212) 867-7086

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express my shock and dismay at the arrest, conviction, and harsh sentencing of an esteemed colleague, Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa . The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We wrote to you earlier (on July 16, 2009) with regard to Dr. Tajbakhsh’s detention, expressing the fear that he would be the victim of concocted allegations. Those fears have materialized. On two previous occasions (when Dr. Tajbakhsh was detained in 2007), CAF also expressed concern about your government’s treatment of him. Dr. Tajbakhsh is a highly respected scholar who has disavowed political involvement in recent years. His arrest was unwarranted and his conviction, based on flimsy evidence and a clearly coerced confession, left his colleagues throughout the world aghast. The twelve-year sentence sends a deeply disturbing message about your government’s respect for elementary human rights (most particularly, the right to a fair trial) and its willingness to abide by the most basic elements of academic freedom.

We urge that you arrange for Dr. Tajbakhsh’s immediate release so that he can resume his much-valued academic activities. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Virginia H. Aksan, PhD
MESA President
Department of History, McMaster University


October 7, 2009

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. New York, NY 10017

Fax: (212) 867-7086

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you for the fourth time this year (2009) on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our very grave concern and mounting consternation over the continued intimidation, arrests, expulsions, and unwarranted violent crackdown carried out by the Iranian authorities against peaceful student activists on Iranian university campuses, as well as the latest spate of harassment and dismissal of university faculty on grounds of political and ideological dissent.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

I am again compelled to bring to your attention the deteriorating situation on Iranian university campuses, where the state-appointed officials and university and other security forces are engaged in routine violations of the basic rights of students and faculty to freedom of speech and opinion. This takes place in direct breach of both the rights guaranteed under the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory. Over the summer, the security forces of the IRI engaged in widespread campaigns of violence against students on Iranian campuses, resulting in the deaths of a number of non-violent student activists along with serious injuries to, and the detention of, hundreds of other students. The security forces also engaged in large-scale destruction of student dormitories and ransacking of personal belongings. 

Recently, with the start of the new academic year in Iran, the situation has grown even more alarming. There are increasing indications of a premeditated large-scale purge being unleashed by the authorities, intended to rid the campuses across the country of student activists and those faculty deemed ideologically unsuitable. Over the past few days alone, a number of student leaders and activists belonging to the organization, Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity (daftar-e tahkim-e vahdat), as well as other student activists have been arrested at the University of Tehran, Sharif University (Tehran), and on other campuses around the country. While a number of these students have now been released, many remain in detention and are denied access to due process of law. There are also increasing reports that detained student activists are frequently subject to physical torture and/or psychological coercion. Numerous other students have been expelled from universities and/or summoned to court, for merely exercising their constitutional right to freedom of opinion, peaceful assembly, and free speech.

Moreover, in the past few days a number of faculty on university campuses, such as the campuses of the Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, have been summarily and arbitrarily dismissed from their posts as part of a coordinated ideological purge being carried out by the authorities. There are clear signs that these purges, which appear to be specifically targeting the faculty in the social sciences and the humanities, are part of a well-orchestrated government policy. It is also feared these are only the beginning of a much more extensive impending wave of purges directed against students and faculty alike, aimed at instilling a regime of fear on university campuses and silencing all dissenting opinions. These recent circumstances have expectedly attracted much international attention and drawn widespread condemnation from concerned academics and scholars around the world (for example: http://www.payvand.com/news/09/sep/1206.html).

The ideologically and politically motivated purges by Iranian officials and security forces, the callous murders, and regular brutal and unwarranted beating of student activists by the security forces, along with large-scale intimidation, frequent arrests and torture during detention, and the periodic expulsion of peaceful student activists and dissenting faculty from university campuses throughout the country, have made the abuses of power by the Iranian state and the atmosphere of fear to which students and faculty are subjected on and off the university campuses by far among the most dismal in the world. 

Your Excellency, the fact that I am writing to you again within such a short span of time should unequivocally underscore the dire urgency of the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and underline our strongest disapproval of such routine violations. MESA again calls on Iranian authorities to implement and guarantee the full rights of academic and intellectual freedom and the right to peaceful assembly on all university campuses. MESA shall continue its rigorous monitoring of developments in Iran, and we hope that Iranian authorities will reverse course and provide solid assurances of respecting and protecting basic rights of freedom of speech, opinion, and scholarship, as well as the right to non-violent assembly, on all Iranian campuses. 

Sincerely,

Virginia H. Aksan, PhD
MESA President
Department of History, McMaster University


July 16, 2009

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. 
New York, NY 10017

Fax: (212) 867-7086

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express my concern about the recent arrests and continued detention of a large number of academics, scholars, and student activists in Iran without any formal charges and without access to legal representation. Based on the available reports, many of the detainees are held at undisclosed locations across the country and are subject to harsh interrogation tactics and various forms of torture in violation of basic international human rights and the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In particular, we are concerned with the arrest on 9 July 2009 of our colleague Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, a prominent Iranian-American social scientist. Dr. Tajbakhsh is a scholar with an international reputation who has not been involved in political activities and was not a participant in the recent street protests following the June 12 disputed presidential elections in Iran. He was taken from his home by the state security forces and to date his family has no information of his whereabouts or the reasons for his detention.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere

This is the third time events in Iran have compelled me to write to you this year. On 29 April 2009, I wrote to you to express our grave concern regarding the large-scale wave of intimidation, arrests, and campus expulsions carried out by Iranian security forces against peaceful student activists and protesters on various university campuses throughout Iran. On 30 June 2009, I wrote again to voice CAF’s serious concern over the murders, mass arrests, brutal beatings, and widespread harassment of Iranian university students in the aftermath of the 12 June 2009 disputed Iranian presidential elections and the ransacking of university dormitories by security forces in a number of cities.

Our special concern with Dr. Tajbakhsh’s arrest and safety also stems from the fact that he was previously detained in 2007, held for four months in solitary confinement on the basis of charges that lacked credibility, and forced to participate in a sham “confession” which was broadcast on Iranian state television, before being released. Despite that harrowing experience, Dr. Tajbakhsh subsequently opted to remain in Iran and to continue working as an expert in urban planning and social policy in that country, given his unflagging commitment to the welfare of his native country and its people. We fear Dr. Tajbakhsh may again be a victim of concocted allegations.

Your Excellency, we call for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Tajbakhsh, who was not involved in the recent protests, as well as those academics, scholars, and students arrested for no more than exercising their basic right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest (as guaranteed in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran). We also urge that these individuals be treated with absolute dignity and given access to legal representatives of their choosing while they remain in detention.

MESA again calls on Iranian authorities to respect and guarantee the full rights of academic and intellectual freedom for scholars and the right to peaceful assembly on all university campuses

Sincerely,

Virginia H. Aksan, PhD
MESA President
Department of History, McMaster University


30 June 2009

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. New York, NY 10017

Fax: (212) 867-7086

Your Excellency,

On 29 April, 2009, I wrote to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern regarding the large-scale wave of intimidation, arrests, and campus expulsions carried out by Iranian security forces against peaceful student activists and protesters on various university campuses throughout Iran since December 2008, in violation of international laws to which Iran is a signatory as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s own constitutional guarantees of free speech and peaceful assembly.

I now write to you again, this time to voice CAF’s serious concern over the murders, mass arrests, brutal beatings, and widespread harassment of Iranian university students in the aftermath of the June 12, 2009, disputed Iranian presidential elections and the ransacking of university dormitories by security forces in a number of cities. In particular, we are extremely alarmed by the confirmed killing of at least 5 unarmed students at the Tehran University dormitory complex (on June 14), which were carried out by university security forces and members of the paramilitary Basij volunteer militia (tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and formally under the direct command of Your Excellency, also with ties to the Interior Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran and avowed loyalty to the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). We are also seriously concerned about the safety of the reportedly hundreds of detained and “disappeared” peaceful student activists who have been rounded up during security raids on and off university campuses across the country since the June 12 elections and these students’ lack of access to constitutional due process of law. Needless to say, we remain vigilant about the treatment of the former student detainees and reiterate our previous request that Iranian authorities investigate and terminate all abuse of power by the various security forces directed against peaceful student activists and academics. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

MESA again calls on Iranian authorities to respect and guarantee the full rights of academic and intellectual freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to peaceful assembly on all university campuses. We welcome the recent call by members of the Iranian parliament (including the parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani) on interior minister Sadeq Mahsouli to account for “why students were injured or even killed,” as reported on the official Iranian English language Press TV website (http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=98834&sectionid=351020101). We hope the Iranian parliament will conduct a full investigation into the recent grievous targeted, as well as random, assaults against students by the security forces and the use of excessive force in quelling peaceful student protests throughout the country in general, calling for the prosecution of all those responsible for such abuses.

MESA most strongly and unequivocally condemns the reprehensible premeditated use of lethal force and unwarranted and gratuitous violent tactics of intimidation against students by the official government and university security forces and the Basij militia and other officially-sponsored vigilante groups. MESA urges you, the Iranian state apparatus, the Iranian president, the heads of the various governmental and state-sponsored security forces, as well as the university officials responsible for campus security, to guarantee the rights of students and academics to free speech and peaceful assembly. We urge that Iranian authorities immediately overturn all punitive measures against the students in question and release all arrested students engaged in peaceful acts of protest and free speech--many of whom are feared to be subject to harsh treatment and physical torture in violation of Iranian law. We additionally urge the authorities to refrain from intimidation, reprimand, and punishment in any form of the faculty on various university campuses who have bravely condemned the “security” terror tactics directed against peaceful student activists on university campuses and the wanton damage caused to student dormitories, with a number of such faculty resigning their posts in protest.

We again feel compelled to remind you, Your Excellency, that the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory. The arbitrary persecution and maltreatment of students on university campuses can only be conceived as a direct attack on the principles of academic freedom and critical intellectual inquiry.

We trust that you appreciate the gravity of these developments and we urge you to use all channels and take all appropriate measures in securing and protecting freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly on Iranian university campuses and by students and academics in general.

Sincerely,

Virginia H. Aksan, PhD
MESA President
Department of History, McMaster University


29 April 2009

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern regarding the recent wave of arrests, beatings, intimidation, and expulsion by the security forces on a number of Iranian university campuses of students engaged in peaceful and legal acts of freedom of expression and assembly. We urge you and all officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure that international standards of academic freedom as well as Iranian constitutional guarantees are fully protected on Iranian university campuses.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Since December 2008 alone, wide-ranging “security” operations have been carried out against students at the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shahr-e Rey campus of the Islamic Azad University, Amirkabir University of Technology and the Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran, as well as at various other universities in the provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan, Tehran, Hamadan, Markazi, Kermanshah, Mazandaran, Yazd, Fars, Isfahan, East Azerbaijan, and Lorestan, among other locations. Most recently, on April 13 at the Noshirvani University of Technology in the city of Babol around twenty students were banned from campus, with a number of students on the same campus beaten and arrested earlier in the month.

MESA calls on Iranian authorities to respect and guarantee the full rights of academic and intellectual freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to peaceful assembly on all university campuses. We urge the authorities to immediately rescind all punitive measures against the students in question and to release all arrested students, some of whom are feared to be subject to torture.

We feel compelled to remind you, Your Excellency, that the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory. The arbitrary persecution and maltreatment of students on university campuses can only be conceived as a direct attack on the principles of academic freedom and critical intellectual inquiry.

Your Excellency, we trust that you will appreciate the seriousness of this matter and urge you to use your good offices and take appropriate measures in securing freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly on Iranian university campuses. 

Sincerely,
Virginia H. Aksan, PhD
MESA President
Department of History, McMaster University


Joint Letter sent with American Anthropological Association Committee for Human Rights

November 5, 2008

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10017, USA

Fax: 212-867-7086

Your Excellency,

We are writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and the American Anthropological Association Committee for Human Rights to express our concern over the recent arrest of Ms. Esha Momeni, a graduate student in the department of journalism and media studies at California State University, Northridge. Since Ms. Momeni’s arrest on October 15, your government has issued very few details regarding the reasons for her arrest or the circumstances of her current physical condition. News reports from Iran and international sources indicate that she is being held in Evin prison. As of this date, your government has neither formally charged Ms. Momeni with any crime nor allowed her to meet with legal representatives. We urge that you immediately investigate the circumstances of her detention, guarantee her physical well being while in custody, and release her if she is not to be charged with a criminal offense.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.          

The American Anthropological Association Committee for Human Rights is elected by the membership of the AAA – a professional organization of over 11,000 anthropologists that is committed to the promotion and protection of the rights of people everywhere to the full realization of their humanity.

Ms. Momeni was arrested in Tehran while conducting research for her Master’s Degree in journalism and media arts. She traveled to Iran in July of this year to visit family members as well as to conduct further research required for the completion of her Master’s thesis. As part of this research, Ms. Momeni conducted videotaped interviews with Iranians working in the areas of public policy and journalism. On October 15th, Ms. Momeni was arrested in Tehran after being stopped by authorities for a minor traffic violation. At the time of her arrest, the authorities neither charged her with a crime nor explained the reason for her arrest. Subsequent to her arrest, police arrived at Ms. Momeni’s family home and began an extensive search of the property. As a result of the search, authorities confiscated computers, videotapes, books, and writings belonging to Ms. Momeni. Given the circumstances of her arrest and the subsequent search and confiscation of materials directly related to her research, our committee is very concerned that her arrest is related to her academic and scholarly work. These circumstances lead us to believe that Ms. Momeni’s arrest is a violation of the basic principles of academic freedom.

The detention of Ms. Momeni does further damage to the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a country where students, academics, and intellectuals can engage in critical debate free from government intrusion. This is particularly distressing and unfortunate given Iran’s rich history of scholarship and tradition of free intellectual inquiry. Academic freedom is in fact essential to achieving your government’s stated goals of international cooperation and intellectual excellence in higher education. We urge you to reaffirm your commitment to these goals by taking the matter of Ms. Momeni’s detention seriously.

We urge you to provide further information about Ms. Momeni’s condition, as well as to immediately provide her with access to legal counsel, family members, and any necessary medical treatment. We also urge you to clarify the circumstances of her arrest and to work towards her timely release.

Sincerely,
Mervat F. Hatem. PhD
MESA President
Professor of Political Science, Howard University

Victoria Sanford, PhD
Chair, AAA Committee for Human Rights
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Lehman College & the Graduate Center, 
      City University of NY


November 4, 2008

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10017, USA

Fax: 212-867-7086
 
Your Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern over the 26, October confiscation of the passport of Ms. Sussan Tahmasebi by security officials at Imam Khomeini airport.  Ms. Tahmasebi, a scholar and women’s rights activist, was thereby prevented from travelling to the United States where she is scheduled to participate as a panelist in the MESA annual meeting, scheduled for November 22-25.  Your government has issued no details regarding the reasons for preventing Ms. Tahmasebi from travelling.  I urge you immediately to investigate the reasons behind the confiscation of her passport, and, if she is not to be charged with a criminal offense, to see that it is returned to her promptly so that she may be permitted to travel.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On 26 October, Ms. Tahmasebi had already passed the passport checkpoint when security officials from the office of the President paged her.  They proceeded to confiscate her passport and prevent her from travelling. She then returned home to find five security agents at her door who presented her with a court order to search her home.  While also filming the home, the security officials seized a number of CDs, books, writings, texts addressing peace-building, cassette tapes and a laptop.  They also presented her with a summons, which had in fact been issued a month earlier, to present herself to the Security Branch of the Revolutionary Courts within three days.  Ms. Tahmasebi appeared at the security branch of the investigative court of the Revolutionary Courts on Wednesday October 29, 2008. While her lawyer Zohreh Arzani was allowed to accompany her to court, Arzani was not permitted to be present during the interrogation, which lasted for more than five hours. According to the Security officials who interrogated her, the interrogations are part of ongoing investigations and will continue.  
 
This is the fourth time that security officials have prevented Ms. Tahmasebi from travelling.  Despite her repeated inquiries, she has never been provided with information on the reasons for these actions.  Given the circumstances of the passport confiscation and the subsequent search and confiscation of materials directly related to her research, our committee is very concerned that the travel ban and subsequent interrogations are related to her academic and scholarly work. Coming only a few days after the arrest by your government of Ms. Esha Momeni, a graduate student in the department of journalism and media studies at California State University, Northridge, we are particularly concerned that the travel ban on Ms. Tahmasebi is yet another instance of the violation of basic principles of academic freedom.

The confiscation of Ms. Tahmasebi’s passport does further damage to the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a country where students, academics, and intellectuals can engage in critical debate free from government intrusion. This is particularly distressing and unfortunate given Iran’s rich history of scholarship and tradition of free intellectual inquiry. Academic freedom is in fact essential to achieving your government’s stated goals of international cooperation and intellectual excellence in higher education. We urge you to reaffirm your commitment to these goals by taking the matter of Ms. Tahmasebi’s detention seriously.

We urge you to clarify the reasons for the confiscation of her passport and to work toward a speedy resolution of this matter so that she may travel.  We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Mervat Hatem
MESA President
Professor of Political Science, Howard University


September 12, 2008

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10017, USA

Fax: 212-867-7086

Your Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America to express our grave concern over the recent arrest and detention of Dr. Mehdi Zakerian, a professor of international relations and human rights law at Islamic Azad University in Tehran. Since Dr. Zakerian’s arrest in mid-August, very few details have been forthcoming regarding the reasons for his arrest, the location of his detention, or his current physical condition. As of this date, your government has filed no formal charges against him. I urge you to investigate the circumstances of his arrest immediately, guarantee his physical well being while in custody, and release him if he is not charged with a violation of the law.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
Dr. Zakerian is a respected scholar in the fields of international relations and human rights law in the Islamic world. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from Azad University, has an extensive record of scholarly publication, and has lectured at numerous Iranian universities. For a number of years, Dr. Zakerian has also been a member of the editorial boards of the Tehran-based bilingual academic journals International Studies and Regional Studies Quarterly. He has also worked as a senior researcher at Tehran’s Center for Strategic Studies of the Middle East. 

Dr. Zakerian, who had previously been a professor at the University of Tehran, was summarily dismissed in September 2007, without explanation, as part of the much-publicized campaign of dismissals of liberal and reformist professors from Iran’s universities. Our committee wrote to you, in a letter dated September 13, 2006, criticizing this policy of dismissing university professors for reasons relating to their academic and scholarly points of view. Such a policy is a clear violation of internationally recognized principles of academic freedom. At the time of his arrest in August 2008, Dr. Zakerian was a professor at Azad University and had been invited to spend an academic year as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. We are concerned that, like his earlier dismissal from his position at the University of Tehran, his recent detention is also connected to his scholarly and intellectual work, and thus a further violation of the basic principles of academic freedom.

The detention of Dr. Zakerian does further damage to the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a country where students, academics, and intellectuals can engage in critical debate free from government intrusion. This is particularly distressing and unfortunate given Iran’s rich history of scholarship and tradition of free intellectual inquiry. Academic freedom is in fact essential to achieving your government’s stated goals of international cooperation and intellectual excellence in higher education. We urge you to reaffirm your commitment to these goals by taking the matter of Dr. Zakerian’s detention seriously.
Your Excellency, we trust that you will take the appropriate measures in this matter. We urge you to provide further information about Dr. Zakarian’s location and condition, as well as immediately to accord him access to legal counsel, family members, and any necessary medical treatment. We also urge you to clarify the circumstances of his arrest and to work towards his timely release.

We look forward to your reply,
  
Sincerely,

Mervat Hatem
MESA President
                                                                                  
cc: William Burke-White, University of Pennsylvania Law School


April 1, 2008

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations

Fax : 212-867-7086 ;  +98 251 7774 2228
info@leader.iristiftaa@wilayah.org

Your Excellency:

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America to protest the 9 March 2008 attack by special forces police against a lawful meeting of a student-organized seminar at Shiraz University, as well as the ongoing harassment of students by university officials.

The Middle East Studies Association of North American (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 27 00 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The seminar at Shiraz University was sponsored by the Islamic Students Association, which applied for and received a permit to hold the event.  Speakers from outside were invited.  According to eyewitness reports, special forces police took over the seminar hall.  Some blocked the speakers and would-be attendees from entering while others beat the student organizers.  Six students were arrested and, when two other students inquired about their status, they also were arrested.  Seven other students were detained at demonstrations before and after this event. 

The police attack on the seminar appears to be an attempt to crush student protests at Shiraz University more generally.  Actions by local law enforcement agents occurred in tandem with similar university actions.  Students have demonstrated in favor of hiring qualified faculty, holding new elections for the Student Council, and improving living conditions in women’s dormitories.  Prior to the seminar’s disruption, university officials had engaged in months of harassment of students that included interference in student elections:  in December 2007, university administrators disqualified 108 students running for election to the Student Council.  Student demonstrators were roughly treated by university security guards and, according to an eyewitness, at least one female demonstrator was beaten.  Witnesses also reported harassment of students’ families by intelligence officials.  The editors of four student publications were prosecuted in the local court for printing "propaganda against the system."  The students responded to these repressive measures with a series of sit-ins and with calls for the resignation of the university chancellor, Mohammad Hadi Sadeghi.   According to our information, as many as 3000 students participated at various times in the sit-ins, which also were supported by members of the university faculty and staff, and which were due to culminate the day after the seminar was attacked. 

Although all the students who were detained are reported to be free on bail, most say they were beaten during their incarceration; and seminar organizers report having been kept in solitary confinement.  After the campus was closed for the Norouz holiday, we learned that the university’s disciplinary committee suspended ten of them for up to two semesters.  Four were punished for having participated in demonstrations in December, and the other six for their participation in the sit-ins. 

Assaults on student assemblies and the disruption of lawful university events by university and police officials constitute a severe abuse of academic freedom.  We ask that you investigate the repression of, and violence committed against, students at Shiraz University by the leaders of their institution and by the local officials who have cooperated with university administrators in beating, incarcerating, and judicially pursuing students for exercising their rights of free speech and lawful assembly.  We also urge you to support our request that the university administration respond to students’ reasonable demands that their elections be permitted to go on without interference and that their living and learning conditions be brought up to acceptable standards .  We look forward to hearing from you with regard to the actions you take in this regard.

Sincerely, 
Mervat Hatem
MESA President


January 7, 2008

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mr. Mohammad Khazaee
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Fax: 212-867-7086
Fax: +98 251 7774 2228
 info@leader.ir

Your Excellency,

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to protest in the strongest possible terms the recent wave of arrests of students at universities across Iran following demonstrations held on December 7, 2007 demanding greater academic freedom at Iranian universities. The names of some of the known detained students are listed below. All are members of the student group Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat) and Students for Freedom and Equality (Daneshjuyan-e Azadi-Khah va Beraber Talab). As of this date none of the students have been formally charged with any crime. I urge you to investigate the circumstances of their arrest and to release them if they are not charged with a recognizable criminal offence.

  • Rosa Essaie (f), member of Iran’s Armenian community, student at Amir Kabir University
  • Mehdi Geraylou (m), student at Tehran University
  • Anousheh Azadfar (f), student at Tehran University
  • Ilnaz Jamshidi (f), student at Free University of Central Tehran
  • Rouzbeh Safshekan (m), student at Tehran University
  • Nasim Soltan-Beigi (m), Allameh Tabatabai University
  • Yaser Pir Hayati (m), student at Shaheed University
  • Younes Mir Hosseini (m), student at Shiraz University
  • Milad Moini  (m), student at Mazandaran University

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Reports from Iran indicate that the recent arrests came in the context of a campaign during the past six weeks by Iranian authorities to place further limits on the freedom of expression on university campuses in Iran. These limits include a new wave of suspensions and expulsions of politically active students, the replacement or forced retirement of reformist professors, and the further banning of a number of student publications deemed politically critical of your government’s policies. Following these measures to further curtail academic freedom, students from universities throughout Iran held simultaneous mass demonstrations and sit-ins on Iran’s University Student’s Day (December 7th, 2007). Those non-violent demonstrations in turn led to more arrests of students. The total number of arrested students is unknown, but reports by authorities in Iran, as well as news reports by the international press, put the number of recently arrested students at several dozen. 

Your Excellency, in the last two years our Committee has observed with great concern the increasing restrictions placed on freedom of expression and academic freedom at Iranian universities. During the past two years our Committee has in fact written to you on seven separate occasions to protest violations of universally accepted standards of academic freedoms by your government. This latest case of harassment, arrest, and detention of university students for the peaceful expression of their guaranteed rights seems to be yet another troubling episode that does further damage to Iran’s long cherished reputation as a society that values intellectual inquiry and freedom of expression.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran explicitly protects the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech (Article 23). The Constitution also explicitly prohibits the exercise of punitive measures against individuals for the exercise of these guaranteed rights (Article 2 and 3). Further, your government’s actions are in violation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (Article 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party.

We urge you, Your Excellency, to release all of the students detained in recent weeks. If charges are to be filed against any detained students, we urge that they be internationally recognizable criminal charges and that any trial be conducted openly and according to internationally recognized standards. We also urge you, Your Excellency, to immediately grant the students listed above unfettered access to their relatives and to legal representation, and to guarantee the well-being of all the recently detained students.

Your Excellency, we trust that you will appreciate the seriousness of this matter and will take the appropriate measures to release the detained students. We also ask that you initiate measures that will reverse the restrictions placed on academic freedom at Iranian universities. We look forward to your positive, written response.

Yours Respectfully,
Mervat F. Hatem
MESA President

cc:

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Justice Building, 
Panzdah-Khordad Square, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 3390 4986 
Email: info@dadgostary-tehran.ir

President 
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection 
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: dr-ahmadinejad@president.ir

Speaker of Parliament
His Excellency Gholamali Haddad Adel
Majles-e Shoura-ye Eslami, Baharestan Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: + 98 21 3355 6408
Email: hadadadel@majlis.ir


STATEMENT OF CONCERN REGARDING TRAVEL TO IRAN

Issued: May 29, 2007

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) is gravely concerned by the escalating pattern of harassment and detention of American academic researchers and scholars by the Iranian government, and believes that there are significant risks for researchers who intend to travel to Iran, especially those holding dual Iranian-American citizenship.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of MESA has written to President Ahmedinejad calling for the release of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari and has been closely monitoring the actions of the Iranian government. CAF notes with alarm the growing number of scholars and researchers in recent weeks, among them Kian Tajbakhsh, who, like Dr. Esfandiari, have been harassed, detained, and subject to defamatory campaigns.

It is unprecedented in the history of this organization to issue a statement of concern; however, CAF feels compelled to bring the emerging pattern of grave infringements on academic freedom, scholarly research, and intellectual exchange to the full attention of MESA members and other scholars who may be contemplating travel to Iran.


May 30, 2007

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
C/O H.E. Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Fax: 212-867-7086
Fax: +98 251 7774 2228
Email: info@leader.iristiftaa@wilayah.org

Your Excellency,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and The Committee for Academic and Intellectual Freedom of the International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS).

Both of our organizations are deeply concerned by the recent arrests in Iran of the respected Iranian-American academics, Dr. Haleh Esfandiari and Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh.

Based on numerous reports, Dr. Esfandiari and Dr. Tajbakhsh were detained by Iranian security forces on May 8 and May 11, respectively. As of this date, your government has released very few details regarding the circumstances of their detention. We are particularly concerned that Dr. Esfandiari and Dr. Tajbakhsh are being mistreated while in custody and are being pressured by prison and intelligence ministry officials to make false confessions. We urge you to take immediate steps to guarantee their physical well-being, grant them their right to confer with legal counsel, and allow them to leave Iran whenever they choose.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America and the International Society for Iranian Studies are the preeminent international organizations in their respective fields. MESA, founded in 1966, and ISIS, founded in 1967, were established to promote scholarship and teaching on Iran, the Middle East, and North Africa. MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide; ISIS publishes the international journal, Iranian Studies and has more than 500 members worldwide. Both organizations are committed to ensuring academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas, and freedom of expression in all its forms, both within Iran and the Middle East and in connection with the study of Iran and the Middle East in North America and elsewhere.

Official statements made by your government regarding the case of Dr. Esfandiari and Dr. Tajbakhsh use vaguely worded allegations of “espionage.” MESA and ISIS vehemently reject these unfounded allegations. Our colleagues’ activities have consistently remained firmly within the strict boundaries of transparent and legitimate academic and policy research. These arrests are all the more troubling as they indicate a calculated policy by Iranian authorities of targeting academics of dual Iranian-US citizenship. MESA and ISIS are independent, nonpolitical international academic organizations that steer clear of the government-level diplomatic disputes between Washington and Tehran. We condemn the targeting of our colleagues on grounds of their having US citizenship. The various unsubstantiated allegations made by certain quarters in Iran against Dr. Esfandiari’s work at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, and Dr. Tajbakhsh’s connection with various international and American think-tanks since his return to Iran in 2000–the latter with the full knowledge and cooperation of Iranian authorities and directed toward humanitarian relief aid and urban planning–are considered by our academic organizations as unjustified assaults against the basic principles of academic and intellectual freedom.

We also feel compelled to remind you, Your Excellency, that the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, and 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party. The arbitrary arrests of Dr. Esfandiari and Dr. Tajbakhsh further harm the reputation of Iran as a country where scholarly research and inquiry are highly valued. These arrests can only be conceived as a direct attack on the principles of academic freedom, critical intellectual inquiry, and research.

Your Excellency, we trust that you will appreciate the seriousness of this matter and will take the appropriate measures. We urge you to secure our colleagues’ immediate release.

Yours Respectfully,
Zachary Lockman
MESA President 

and

Nasrin Rahimieh
ISIS President

cc: Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Justice Building, Panzdah-Khordad Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 3390 4986 
Email: info@dadgostary-tehran.ir 

President 
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection 
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: dr-ahmadinejad@president.ir

Mr. Mohammad Hassan Zia'i-Far
Secretary of the Islamic Human Rights Commission
Fax: +44 20 8904-5183
E-mail: info@ihrc.org


May 22, 2007

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
C/O H.E. Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Fax: 212-867-7086
Fax: +98 251 7774 2228
Email: info@leader.iristiftaa@wilayah.org

Your Excellency,

I write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to protest the continuing campaign of harassment, expulsion, and arrest of students at Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran. Most recently six student journalists were arrested in early May in connection with articles published in student publications in late April. The six students—Ahmad Qasabian, Moqdad Khalilpour, Pooya Mahmoudian, Majid Tavakkoli, Babak Zamanian, and Majid Sheikhpour—are believed held in Evin Prison. As of this date none of the students has been formally charged with any crime. I urge you to investigate the circumstances of their arrest and to release them if they are not charged with a recognizable criminal offense.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Reports from Iran indicate that the student editors were summoned to a Revolutionary Court on May 3rd, 7th, and 8th following the publication in student magazines of articles deemed by university officials to “insult Islamic sanctities.” The offending articles include one in which the doctrine of religious infallibility is questioned and another in which the recent crackdown on modern female clothing is challenged. The issues raised in these articles clearly fall within the parameters of debate common to universities and are therefore clearly protected by universal standards of academic freedom. Press accounts have also reported that following the publication of the offending articles members of the Basij militia entered the campus and physically attacked students associated with the campus publications. In several documented cases students associated with the campus publications were hospitalized with critical injuries.

As you are no doubt aware, Your Excellency, the Basij militia is organized under the authority of the Revolutionary Guard, which in turn is under your direct command. Your government’s encouragement of the Basij militia to enter the campus and confront the student journalists is tantamount to an incitement of violence against those holding views you deem unacceptable. This contravenes one of the most basic principles of academic freedom, the maintenance of university campuses as sites promoting the open exchange of ideas free from harassment and violence.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran explicitly protects the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech (Article 23). The constitution also explicitly prohibits the exercise of punitive measures against individuals for the exercise of these guaranteed rights (Articles 2 and 3). Further, your government’s actions are in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party.

Your Excellency, the violence perpetrated against students associated with the campus publications at Amir Kabir University and the subsequent arrest of student editors does further damage to the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a country where students, academics, and intellectuals can engage in critical debate free from government intrusion. In fact, this case is just one example of a disturbing trend in your country’s university system.

As we have detailed in previous letters to your office (see letter of February 13, 2007, and letter of September 13, 2006), during the past year students and professors from numerous Iranian universities have been disciplined, fired, forcibly retired, expelled, and otherwise harassed on grounds that are clearly related to their political opinions and associations. This trend has also been documented by numerous international non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch in its report of October 2006 titled “Denying the Right to Education" www.hrw.org/backgrounder/mena/iran1006).

We trust that you will appreciate the seriousness of this matter and will take the appropriate measures to release the six student journalists. We also ask that you initiate measures that will preserve the principles of academic freedom at Iranian universities. We look forward to your positive response.

Yours Respectfully,
Zachary Lockman
MESA President

cc: Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Justice Building, Panzdah-Khordad Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 3390 4986 
Email: info@dadgostary-tehran.ir 

President 
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection 
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: dr-ahmadinejad@president.ir

Speaker of Parliament
His Excellency Gholamali Haddad Adel
Majles-e Shoura-ye Eslami, Baharestan Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: + 98 21 3355 6408
Email: hadadadel@majlis.ir


May 11, 2007

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Pasteur Ave
Tehran 13168-43311
Iran

Your Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our dismay over the harassment and subsequent detention of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Dr. Esfandiari was in Iran to visit her aging mother in December but was prevented from leaving the country and subsequently threatened, pressured, and repeatedly questioned by security authorities. Most recently, on May 8, 2007, she was arrested without charges and taken to Evin Prison.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The confiscation of Dr. Esfandiari's travel documents and her subsequent harassment contravenes Iranian laws and Iran's international commitments which guarantee the right of entry and exit to Iranians and other nationals. Further, her detention violates the constitution of Iran, which explicitly protects the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech (Article 23). The constitution also explicitly prohibits the exercise of punitive measures against individuals for the exercise of these guaranteed rights (Articles 2, 3). Further, your government's actions are in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party.

Harassment and detention of scholars is always cause for grave concern, but in this case it should be noted that the scholar in question is widely respected both for her knowledge and ability to provide clear and dispassionate analysis. Her treatment sends a chilling message to scholars throughout the world.

We feel it is urgent that you take steps immediately to explain the reasons for her sudden detention, grant her access to legal counsel and family members, and allow her to return to her family in the United States as quickly as possible.

Respectfully,
Zachary Lockman
President

cc: H.E. Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations 
Embassy of Pakistan, Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


February 13, 2007

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
C/O H.E. Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Fax: 212-867-7086

Your Excellency,

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and the Committee on Academic Freedom to protest the recent expulsion of Mr. Matin Meshkin from Tehran’s Amir Kabir University of Technology. Mr. Meshkin is a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering as well as a prominent student activist and member of the Islamic Student Association. His expulsion appears to be another egregious example among a wave of recent such cases in which your government has taken disciplinary action against students who express political opinions that are critical of your government’s policies. I urge you to investigate the circumstances leading to Mr. Meshkin’s expulsion and allow him to continue his education.

The Middle East Studies Association of North American (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Mr. Meshkin is an advanced doctoral candidate who is close to completing the final requirements for his doctorate in electrical engineering. He has completed all of the coursework to receive his degree, has carried out the necessary research, and written his doctoral dissertation. He has also successfully completed the required comprehensive doctoral examinations. He now waits to schedule his thesis defense in order to complete the final requirement of the doctorate. It was at this stage in Mr. Meshkin’s education that he was summarily— and without explanation—expelled from Amir Kabir University in December of last year. Prior to his formal expulsion Mr. Meshkin had been notified that the grant he had been awarded to fund his education from the Shahid Chamran University in Ahvaz had been withdrawn. Mr. Meshkin protested the termination of his university grant and offered to pay his own tuition to complete his doctorate degree. It was at this point that he received official word of his expulsion. As of this date neither Mr. Meshkin nor his lawyers have received any formal explanation accounting for his expulsion. His case is now pending at the Administrative Justice Court.

Your Excellency, you are no doubt aware of the student protests at Amir Kabir University that also took place in December of last year, where students confronted President Ahmadinejad during a campus visit. You are also no doubt aware of public comments made by President Ahmadinejad during this campus visit. As video taped reports of the campus visit document, President Ahmadinejad publicly threatened student protestors with disciplinary action, including expulsion from the university, if they become identified as “starred students”—named because stars or asterisks have been placed next to their names on official intelligence ministry lists in connection to their political activism. Given that Mr. Meshkin was a prominent member of the student movement at Amir Kabir University we have no alternative but to conclude that his expulsion from the university is connected to his political activism.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran explicitly protects the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech (Articles 23). The constitution also explicitly prohibits the exercise of punitive measures against individuals for the exercise of these guaranteed rights (Article 2 and Article 3). Further, your government’s actions are in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party.

The expulsion of Mr. Meshkin does further damage to the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a country where students, academics, and intellectuals can engage in critical debate free from government intrusion. In fact, Mr. Meshkin’s case is just one example of a disturbing trend in your country’s university system. As we have detailed in previous letters to your office (see letter of September 13, 2006), during the past year students and professors from numerous Iranian universities have been disciplined, fired, forcibly retired, expelled, and otherwise harassed on grounds that are clearly related to their political opinions and associations. This trend has also been documented by numerous international non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch in its report of October 2006 titled Denying the Right to Education http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/mena/iran1006).

Your Excellency, we trust that you will appreciate the seriousness of this matter and will take the appropriate measures to reverse Mr. Meshkin’s dismissal. We also ask that you initiate measures that will preserve the principles of academic freedom at Iranian universities. We look forward to your positive response.


Sincerely yours,
Zachary Lockman
MESA President

cc: Ali Reza Rahai, Chancellor
Amir Kabir University
Fax: +982 1 641 3964

Majid Atayi-Pur
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
Amir Kabir University
Fax: +982 1 646 8681


September 13, 2006

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Fax: 212-867-7086

Your Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America to express our concern over the announcement last week that your government plans to purge liberal and secular faculty members from universities in Iran. We respectfully request assurances from you that any compulsory retirement of academic personnel be done in a transparent manner and without regard to their political views.

We also request assurances about the well-being of Dr. Mohamed Hadi Hadizadeh-Yazdi, a physics professor at Ferdowsi University, whom the authorities detained in May 2006 reportedly on charges of conspiring against the Islamic Republic.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2600 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Our concern regarding the risk of forced retirements on political grounds stems from the University of Tehran’s announcement in June 2006 that between 40 and 45 of the faculty members who had reached the mandatory retirement age would be obliged to retire. Abbasali Amid Zanjani, the president of the university, told reporters that the university would decide which among the faculty members who had reached 65, or in some cases 60, would be asked to leave. Several well-known Iranian academics, including a former minister of culture and higher education and a former president of the University of Isfahan, have publicly expressed concern that political considerations will play a role in the threatened dismissals. More recently, in early September, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a gathering of young scientists that students should “protest and shout about” and demand “why some liberal or secular professors are still present in the universities.”

Our concern is heightened by recent government acts that violate the rights of academics to freedom of thought and speech. In May 2006, the authorities arrested Ramin Jahanbegloo, a prominent scholar affiliated with the Iranian Institute of Contemporary Studies, and Mohammad Hadi Hadizadeh-Yazdi, a physics professor at Ferdowsi University in Mashhad. The authorities recently released Professor Jahanbegloo on bail. We understand that the charges against him, reportedly based on the fact that he meets with foreigners in the course of his work, have not been dismissed. We do not know the circumstances or conditions of Professor Hadizadeh-Yazdi's continued detention and we remain concerned about his well-being.

We feel compelled to remind Your Excellency that the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a state party. Dismissing professors for exercising these rights directly violates these solemn commitments to human rights and academic freedom, and represent an affront to the universal value of free and open exchange of ideas.

For this reason we ask that you ensure that Iran’s universities use transparent and non-discriminatory criteria in any decisions regarding compulsory retirement, and that no academics face dismissal solely or mainly because of political views that they express peacefully.

Your Excellency, we trust that you will appreciate the seriousness of this matter and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Juan R.I. Cole
MESA President


August 23, 2006


Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
c/o H.E. Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Fax: 212-867-7086

Your Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern over the recent death of Akbar Mohammadi while in detention at Evin Prison on July 30, 2006, and to inquire regarding the medical condition of his brother Manuchehr Mohammadi who is still being held in detention. Akbar and Manuchehr Mohammadi were both arrested along with other student activists in July of 1999 during demonstrations protesting the closure of a daily newspaper. We consider their participation in these peaceful demonstrations to be a protected form of expression as guaranteed by universal standards of academic freedom of speech and assembly. Since their detention we have closely followed developments in their case and have become increasingly concerned for their well-being and that of others being detained by your government.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2600 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Information we have received indicates that since his initial arrest in 1999 Akbar Mohammadi had been subject to torture and ill treatment while in police custody. Mr. Mohammadi had reportedly gone on a hunger strike in June of 2006 to protest his detention. During this period credible reports suggest that he was denied access to legal counsel and medical treatment. We are gravely concerned that the conditions under which he was being held as well as the decision by your government to deny him medical treatment in July of 2006 were the cause of his death.

The fate of Akbar Mohammadi’s brother, Manuchehr Mohammadi, is also of concern to us. We have reports that he, too, had been on a hunger strike to protest the circumstances of his detention and had in fact slipped into a coma in July of 2005 before receiving medical treatment. Documented reports regarding his detention indicate that he has previously been tortured and mistreated while in the custody of your government. His current medical condition is unknown to us; however, we have reason to believe that he is currently being denied access to legal counsel and to his family members.

Given the circumstances surrounding the death of his brother we feel it is urgent that you take steps immediately to determine the physical condition of Manuchehr Mohammadi and to grant him access to legal counsel and to his family. We also urge you to immediately begin an independent investigation into the circumstances of Akbar Mohammadi’s death while in detention, and that you make the results of this investigation public.

We feel compelled to remind you, Your Excellency, that the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party. The detention and ill treatment of student activists for protesting the closure of newspapers is in direct violation of these protected rights and the universal value of free and open exchange of ideas. The death of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003 while in police custody, the arrest and continued detention of Ramin Jahanbegloo since April of this year, and the previous arrest of Akbar Ganji, in addition to the case of Akbar and Manuchehr Mohammadi, can only be conceived as direct attacks on these universal principles.

Your Excellency, we trust that you will appreciate the seriousness of this matter and take the immediate appropriate measures.

Sincerely,
Juan R.I. Cole
MESA President


May 8, 2006

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Fax: 212-867-7086

Your Excellency:

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and the Committee on Academic and Intellectual Freedom of the International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS) to protest in the strongest possible terms the recent arrest of Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo, a prominent Iranian intellectual and political theorist. We urge you to use your good offices to determine the circumstances of his detention and to secure his immediate release.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America and the International Society for Iranian Studies are the preeminent international organizations in their respective fields. MESA, founded in 1966, and ISIS, founded in 1967, were established to promote scholarship and teaching on Iran, the Middle East, and North Africa. MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2600 members worldwide; ISIS publishes the international journal of Iranian Studies and has more than 500 members worldwide. Both organizations are committed to ensuring academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas, and freedom of expression in all its forms, both within Iran and the Middle East and in connection with the study of Iran and the Middle East in North America and elsewhere.

According to information we have received Dr. Jahanbegloo was arrested at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport in late April. Officials from your government have stated that Dr. Jahanbegloo is currently undergoing “interrogations” and that he is suspected of crimes related to “security and spying”. Despite these statements, as of this date no official charges have been filed against Dr. Jahanbegloo. Officials have stated that charges against Dr. Jahanbegloo will only be filed after his interrogation. Given these facts we are concerned that officials of your government are in the process of coercing confessions from Dr. Jahanbegloo. We also have reason to believe that he has been allowed only limited access to his family, and as far as we know he has not had any access to legal counsel.

Dr. Jahanbegloo is a highly respected scholar and academic who is currently the head of the department of Contemporary Studies at Tehran’s Cultural Research Bureau, an important institution in your country that has gained international recognition for its important scholarly work in the area of Iranian history, culture, and politics. Dr. Jahanbegloo’s work as part of the Cultural Research Bureau has contributed to the high regard in which it is held by scholars both inside and outside of Iran. He has also studied and taught at major universities in Europe and North America, including the Sorbonne, Harvard University, and the University of Toronto. In his role as a public intellectual Dr. Jahanbegloo has also consistently advocated for the US and Europe to adopt a less confrontational approach in dealing with Iran. His published work includes over twenty books in Persian, French, and English on topics relating to European and Iranian intellectual history and political philosophy. Dr. Jahanbegloo’s writing reflects a thoughtful consideration of Iran’s encounter with modernity and the difficult and complex process by which modern Iranian intellectuals have sought to define universal values such as democracy and human rights in terms that are organic to Iranian tradition. Given the arbitrary and unusual nature of Dr. 
Jahanbegloo’s detention, we are compelled to conclude that his arrest is connected to his scholarly and intellectual pursuits.

We also feel compelled to remind you, Your Excellency, that the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party. The arbitrary arrest of Dr. Jahanbegloo does further harm to the reputation of Iran as a country where scholarly research and inquiry are highly valued. Dr. Jahanbegloo’s arrest and detention can only be conceived as a direct attack on the principles of academic freedom and critical intellectual inquiry.

Your Excellency, we trust that you will appreciate the seriousness of this matter and will take the appropriate measures. We urge you to secure his immediate release.

Yours Respectfully,
Juan R.I. Cole
President, MESA

and 

Janet Afary
President
ISIS


September 20, 2005

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
c/o H.E.Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Fax: 212-867-7086

Your  Excellency:

We write to you today, on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), regarding the continued imprisonment of Hossein Ghazian, a sociologist and co-director of the Ayandeh Research Institute in Tehran. Dr. Ghazian has been imprisoned since late October 2002, when he was arrested following publication of opinion polls the institute conducted on subjects that included popular attitudes in Iran towards the United States. Dr. Ghazian’s arrest and continued imprisonment stand in clear violation of his internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and freedom to impart and receive information, which are constituent rights of academic freedom. We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to secure his immediate release and to dismiss of the unjust charges lodged against him.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) is comprised of 2600 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa in North America and elsewhere.

Following his arrest, Dr. Ghazian was convicted on charges of waging propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran and cooperation with a belligerent state and was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. Some of the charges were dismissed on appeal but he remained convicted on the charge of cooperation with a belligerent state (article 508 of Iran’s Penal Code); his sentence was thus reduced to four and a half years. Two colleagues who were arrested with him, Mohsen Goudarzi and Abbas Abdi, were released in 2004 and 2005, and cleared of all charges, but Dr. Ghazian’s efforts to appeal his remaining  conviction to the Supreme Court have been blocked by Saeed Mortazavi, the presiding judge in Dr. Ghazian’s case and now Tehran’s chief prosecutor. 
 
The Ayandeh Research Institute conducted the opinion polls in question for the U.S.-based Gallup Organization and the Zogby Polling Institute. One poll was part of an international survey of values in Muslim societies; the other, conducted a week before the June 2001 presidential election in Tehran, surveyed popular perceptions of Iranian-U.S. relations.

According to a submission Dr. Ghazian made to the Supreme Court, during his period of incarceration the authorities kept him in solitary confinement and subjected him to physical and psychological abuse. He also was denied the right to communicate regularly with his lawyers and family, in violation of Iran’s constitution. The legal office in Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in response to requests by Dr. Ghazian’s lawyers, stated in 2004 that the Islamic Republic does not consider the United States to be a belligerent state. However, Judge Mortazavi has to this point refused to allow this and other documents in the case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Your Excellency, the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran falls directly under your authority. Dr. Ghazian, who in several weeks will have spent three years in unjust detention, has been convicted and sentenced solely for acts that are protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party. We urge you to take steps to secure his immediate and unconditional release and dismissal of the unjust charges on which he was convicted. 
 
We look forward to your positive response to this request, and thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely yours,
Amy W. Newhall
Executive Director, MESA

CC: Ambassador Zarif, IRI Mission to the UN


December 23, 2003

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
c/o H.E.Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations

Your Excellency:

We are contacting you to express grave concern about the recent trial and sentencing to prison of Maliheh Maghazei, translator; Jafar Homaei, publisher; Banafsheh Samgis, literary critic ; and Majid Sayadi, Cultural Director for the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. 
These individuals were accused, according to the court verdict, of “insulting and undermining the holy tenets of Islam,” “sullying the person of the Prophet Muhammad,” and “distorting Islamic history” by “publishing false, slanderous, and fabricated texts.” Following our examination of the cases against the accused we find these charges to be baseless. We call for an immediate end to their persecution and their unconditional exoneration.

[MESA is...]

The criminal case against Banafsheh Samgis stems from a favorable review she published in the official Iran Daily of a book entitled Iranian Women Musicians: from the epic age to the present. The criminal court of Tehran charged that Ms. Samgis used ”unscientific and discredited sources,” which caused “serious displeasure and stress among the senior ulama and the population.” Ms. Samgis was faulted for observing that the Prophet of Islam liked to listen to music performed by women artists, and that women artists have practiced their craft throughout Islamic history. She was sentenced to one year in prison.

The charges against Maliheh Maghazei, Jafar Homaei, and Majid Sayadi pertain to the translation and publication of The Veil and the Male Elite by Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi. The Criminal Court of Tehran found Ms. Maghazei guilty of “deliberately distorting the history and undermining the basic tenets of Islam” by translating a work “most of which content is a misrepresentation of Quranic verses…a work imbued with feminist opinions and infatuation with the West… a work which shamelessly assigns certain positions to the Prophet and to Islam which will undermine the very bases of Islamic beliefs.” Ms. Maghazei and Mr. Sayadi were sentenced to one year in prison, and Mr. Homaei to eighteen months. The court also ordered the copies of Mernissi’s book to be shredded.

These cases were tried in a branch of the General Court in Tehran. Judge Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran’s prosecutor general, presided. The court ruled that four-fifths of the sentences of Samgis, Maghazei and Sayadi would be suspended, but that Sayadi would have to serve his full sentence.

Your Excellency, we find these charges and judicial proceedings reminiscent of the darkest moments of the 15th and 16th century Inquisitions that permanently damaged the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church. We strongly condemn the persecution of scholarly and social scientific inquiry on the basis of their critical analysis of history and of sacred texts. As the head of the Islamic Republic, and as the only official to whom the Judiciary is answerable, we urge you to request in the strongest terms that the Judiciary dismiss these cases and the verdicts with immediate effect.

Your Excellency, the very nature of scholarly and scientific inquiry demands a critical and dispassionate approach to history, as well as all texts, intellectual traditions and belief systems. Professor Mernissi’s book is widely recognized as a text of high professional and academic standard. It is widely translated and taught in many countries and universities, including Middle Eastern and Muslim countries, and by many members of this association. Nowhere to our knowledge is Professor Mernissi’s book considered to be an ”anti-Islamic” text, or disrespectful of Islam and the Prophet. In fact, Professor Mernissi’s book emphasizes, in a scholarly and well-researched manner, the inherently egalitarian and anti-discriminatory history of early Islam.

Jafar Homayei, the Iranian publisher of the book and one of the accused, included a 43-page critical introduction by a prominent religious scholar, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Karimi Zanjani-Asl, in order to ensure that opposing and clerical opinions were represented. Furthermore, he published the book only after receiving official permission from the official censor of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Majid Sayadi. While in no way condoning the highly objectionable practice of censoring books before publication, we deplore the fact that the above individuals were brought to court and condemned to prison even after the publisher had secured the required permissions from the appropriate authorities.

Your Excellency, the rights of individuals to freedom of thought, opinion, and speech are explicitly protected under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also a state party.

Your Excellency, we feel the necessity of reminding you of the serious harm caused by these criminal cases to the reputation of Iran as a country where scientific and scholarly research and inquiry are highly valued. The prison sentences of one year each for Ms Samgis, Ms Maghazei, and Mr Sayadi, and 18 months for Mr Homayei, blatantly violate not only the individual and legal rights of these individuals, but send an intimidating signal to all scholars, researchers, and publishers in Iran. These court cases can only be conceived as a direct violation and attack upon academic scholarship and critical intellectual inquiry. 

Having reviewed the Prosecutor’s case and the Judge’s verdict against the accused, we note that it would have been entirely appropriate for them to publish their objections to Ms Samgis’ review and to Professor Mernissi’s book in the format of critical reviews. However, these gentlemen used the punitive power of the State to persecute scholars, writers, and publishers for expressing their opinion, a blatant abuse of the public office entrusted to them.

Your Excellency, we urge you again to communicate to the Judiciary the need to remedy this travesty of justice without delay. These steps are critical to help prevent further deterioration of Iran’s reputation as a country with a great tradition of learning and scholarly inquiry.

We thank you in advance for your attention to this matter and look forward to your reply.

Yours respectfully,

Amy W. Newhall
Executive Director

cc:
HE Mohammad Khatami, President of the IRI
HE Kamal Kharrazi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, IRI
HE Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, Head of the Judiciary, IRI
HE Mehdi Karroubi, Speaker of the Majlis, IRI


25 July 2003

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations 
By post and facsimile : 212 867-7086 

Your Excellency:

We are contacting you to express our great concern about and strong condemnation of the violent attacks on university students, and the wide scale arrest, imprisonment, intimidation, and maltreatment of hundreds of students throughout Iran in recent weeks. 

[MESA is...]
  
According to the information we have received, following some minor student protests on June 12 in Elm-o Sanaat and Shahid Beheshti Universities, the dormitories of these universities were viciously attacked by bands of vigilantes in the early hours of the morning on June 12 and 14, when their residents were asleep and defenseless. The attackers broke down the doors with pick axes and sledge hammers, destroyed the personal property of the residents, and physically abused and attacked the students with knives, clubs, and chains. Subsequent to these attacks 80 students were arrested, some in the hospital where they were taken for treatment, but very few of the perpetrators of these crimes have been identified and arrested.

The attacks on the Tarasht, Shahid Beheshti, and the Tarbiat Modaress (June 17) dormitories are clearly a recurrence of the criminal attacks by vigilantes and police forces on the dormitories of the Tehran University that took place on July 9, 1999. On that occasion at least one student, Ezzat Ebrahimnejad, was killed, and several other students were maimed and seriously injured. The subsequent criminal court, in a travesty of justice, vindicated the attackers, including General Farhad Kazemi, the police commander who had led the attacks. But a number of students who were arrested in demonstrations following these events were condemned to unjustly heavy sentences. Ahmad Batebi, a student whose only crime was to have had his picture published on the cover of the ‘Economist’ magazine, received a ten-year jail sentence. Students such as Mehrdad Lohrasbi, Akbar Mohammadi, Abbas Fakhravar, among others are still languishing in prison.

Although the police have shown greater restraint during recent events, the vigilantes and the judiciary seem to have acted with even greater impunity and disregard for laws and the civil and legal rights of the students. In reaction to these treatments, student protests, sit-ins, and food strikes spread to other cities and campuses in the cities of Karaj, Ahvaz, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Zahedan, Hamedan, Kermanshah, Rasht, Sabzevar, Tabriz, Urumieh, Kerman, Sanadaj, and Yazd. In response to these protests 4000 people were arrested, 2000 of whom are still in prison. In Tehran at least 400 people are still under arrest, among which there are at least 66 students. These numbers do not include those students arrested under ‘political charges’, whose exact numbers and whereabouts are not known. 
We are deeply disturbed that your Excellency seems to have contributed to this state of affairs. In July of 1999, you made a public announcement demanding your followers to treat students ‘with respect and kindness’, even if they insulted you in person. This commendable call to restraint was not heeded by your followers who went on a rampage without any of them being punished. During the recent confrontations you did not exercise even this minimal rhetorical tolerance and ordered your followers to treat the students and protesters “with decisiveness and without pity”. Regrettably, your disturbing statement has been widely echoed throughout the country by other officials appointed by and only accountable to yourself. These include local Friday prayer leaders, military commanders, the judiciary, the National Iranian Radio and Television, and some major newspapers, like the Kayhan Daily, all of whom have publicly called for the ‘ruthless and harsh’ treatment of student protesters.

We have received information that several prominent student activists have been violently arrested by unknown security forces operating outside the government’s jurisdiction. It is highly suspected that these rogue forces operate under the jurisdiction of the Counter-Intelligence Department of the Revolutionary Guards Corp as well as the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Judiciary Branch. Both these institutions are under your direct supervision. The government institutions legally in charge of security, which include the Intelligence and Interior Ministries, as well as the Police and the Prison Administration have declared that they have no knowledge of these arrests, or the whereabouts of the detainees. These arrests have been without the defendants being legally notified of the formal charges against them. Ali Akrami of Amir Kabir University disappeared on June 14. Mojtaba Najafi and Morteza Safaee, student activists at Allameh Tabatabaee University, were attacked with mace spray and driven away in unmarked cars in front of their colleagues on June 16. Abdollah Momeni and Mehdi Pour-Rahim of Elm-o Sanaat University have disappeared on June 29. Mehdi Aminzadeh was seen being forcefully pushed into an unmarked car on June 29. Qolamreza Zarifian, Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education, announced on June 26 that at least 36 students in Tehran and 50 in the provinces had either disappeared or had been arrested by unknown agents. On 27 June 24 students disappeared in Tabriz.

Several other elected leaders of the main Islamic Student Association (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat) have been arrested at gunpoint by unidentified security agents. Saeed Razavi-Faqih of Tarbiat Modaress University was arrested when leaving a meeting of the Association of Journalists on July 10. His whereabouts are unknown to this day. His lawyer has not been able to determine why he was arrested and under what conditions he is being kept. Other student leaders have been violently arrested under similar circumstances. These include Saeed Habibi, Reza Amerinasab, and Arash Hashemi (on July 10); and Ali Sadeghi, Saeed Babaei, and Amir Motamedi (on July 17) in Tehran; as well as Saeed Ardeshiri and 9 other leading activists in Kerman (July 17).

According to several reports by members of the Iranian Majlis, the detained students are being subjected to lengthy interrogations and serious physical and psychological abuse and torture. Many are being kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, and are deprived of sleep, decent food, and proper medical care. The families of many detainees are being subjected to pressure and threats. These illegal abuses are aimed at forcing the arrested students to make false confessions about themselves and against fellow students and other political activists. The ‘Revolution Court’ seems to have emphasized this attitude when it announced on July 18 that it was releasing 14 students on parole after having posted heavy bails, because they had “honestly admitted their culpability and shown remorse by confessing they had committed these crimes under the poisonous influence of certain individuals. The students are being released after they have implicated the real culprits and the main sources of the recent conspiracies”.

Your Excellency, we would like to remind you that according to Article 22 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the life, property, and rights of individuals are inviolable. Article 23 forbids the persecution of individuals for their beliefs. Article 27 permits the free holding of public gatherings and marches provided arms are not carried. Article 38 bans all forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or acquiring information. It prohibits the compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath, states that any testimony or confession obtained under duress is devoid of value, and states that the violation of this article is a crime punishable by law. Article 39 prohibits any and all abuse of the dignity and repute of persons detained and imprisoned, and makes the violation of this article a crime punishable by law.

Furthermore, these articles correspond to legal protections enshrined in the United Nation’s Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a signatory to this International Covenant, Iran is obligated to respect and protect the exercise of these rights. Article 7 of the Covenant prohibits torture and inhuman treatment of the individual. Article 9 prohibits arbitrary arrest and deprivation of liberty, except under legally established procedures. Article 10 cites that anyone arrested should be treated with respect and dignity. Article 14 cites that anyone charged must be informed of the nature of the charges against him/her. Articles 18, 19, and 21, state that everyone should enjoy the freedom of thought, expression, opinion, and assembly. 

We therefore urge you in the strongest terms to speak out publicly and to take all the necessary steps to ensure that these clear infringements of the legal rights of the imprisoned students are stopped, that the imprisoned students and political activists are freed immediately, and that all those guilty of violent attacks on student dormitories and gatherings, or of illegal arrest, maltreatment, and intimidation of students and the university community be identified and punished according to law.

Your Excellency, we can only persist in reminding you that these steps are critical to help prevent further deterioration of Iran’s international standing. Iran’s reputation as a country with a great tradition of learning and scholarly inquiry has suffered as a result of these most recent violations of the sanctity of the university community. We urge you to treat this situation with the urgency and the gravity that it requires.

We thank you in advance for your attention to this matter and look forward to your reply.

Yours respectfully,

Amy W. Newhall 
Executive Director

cc:
HE Kamal Kharrazi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, IRI
HE Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, Head of the Judiciary, IRI 
HE Mohammad Khatami, President of the IRI 
HE Mehdi Karoubi, Speaker of the Majlis, IRI
HE Kofi Anan, United Nations


November 11, 2002

Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Javad Zarif
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Avenue, 34th floor
New York, NY 10017
By post and facsimile : 212 867-7086
 
Your Excellency:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). We are contacting you to express our very grave concern and strong condemnation regarding the death sentence and other harsh penalties issued against Professor Hashem Aghajari, chair of the history department at Tehran’s Tarbiat Modaress University and a visiting professor at the University of Tehran and Beheshti University.
 
[MESA is...]
 
According to information we have received, in August Professor Aghajari was arrested and charged with apostasy following a lecture he delivered in the city of Hamedan entitled “Islamic Protestantism.” In those remarks he reportedly criticized the political role of Iran’s clerical establishment and called for an end to “blind obedience” to decrees by clerical leaders . On November 7, following an unfair trial in the Hamedan District Court that was closed to the public, Judge Ramazani condemned Professor Aghajari to death. The judge also sentenced him to seventy-four lashes and eight years in prison and proclaimed a ten-year ban against his engagement in teaching activities.

We understand that once this ruling is formally conveyed to Professor Aghajari’s legal counsel, he will have twenty days in which to appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court.

It is our view that Professor Aghajari is being prosecuted and harshly punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Iran, as a state party to this treaty, is obligated to respect and protect the exercise of this right.
 
In the context of current political developments in Iran, it is apparent that the intent of those who brought these charges and arrived at this judgement is not only to punish Dr. Aghajari, an academic respected in Iran for his courage and integrity, but also to intimidate other academics and public thinkers from speaking out.

We therefore urge you in the strongest terms to speak out publicly and to take all necessary steps to ensure that neither the death penalty nor any of the other punishments decreed against Professor Aghajari are carried out. We ask that you request the head of the Judiciary and other relevant officials to release Professor Aghajari from prison immediately and unconditionally, and lift the ban against his teaching activities.
 
We also understand that Dr. Aghjajari is in urgent need of medical attention regarding an infection that has developed in his right leg which had been amputated at the knee following injuries received in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. We ask that you take immediate steps to ensure that Dr. Aghajari receives forthwith all necessary medical attention and has access to medical professionals of his own choosing.
 
Your Excellency, these steps are critical in order to help restore Iran’s international standing as a country with a great tradition of learning and scholarly inquiry, and to ensure that Iranian society benefits from the free exchange of ideas. We thank you in advance for your attention to this matter and look forward to your reply.
 
Sincerely,

Amy W. Newhall
Executive Director

cc:
His Excellency Kamal Kharrazi
Minister of Foreign Affairs
His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi
Head of the Judiciary


January 24, 2001

Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Hadi Nejad Hosseinian
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Avenue, 34th floor
New York, NY 10017
By facsimile: 212 867 7086

Your Excellency:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, I write to express the Committee’s deep dismay at the alarming number of recent attacks by the government of Iran against academics and other intellectuals solely for attempting to exercise their right to freedom of expression and to exchange information.
These attacks on free expression include the following:

On January 13 a Revolutionary Court convicted and handed down sentences for ten persons, including several academics and independent scholars, who had participated in a public forum in Berlin in April about the future of Iran.

The renowned independent scholar Hojjat al-Islam Hassan Youssefi-Eshkevari remains in jail awaiting sentencing following his conviction on charges of apostasy by a Special Clergy Court for his remarks at the Berlin forum, charges that can carry the death penalty.

Student leader Ali Reza Afshari, who was among those convicted and sentenced on January 13, faces separate charges for his remarks critical of the government at a campus rally in late November.

On January 17 a Tehran court ordered the summary closure of Kiyan, an independent journal that has published many of Iran’s leading intellectuals and fostered open debate on religious and philosophical matters.

We strongly urge you to take immediate steps to end this systematic official persecution of independent thinkers and writers, a campaign that is in clear violation of Iran’s obligation under international law to uphold and protect the right to free expression.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) comprises 2700 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and the freedom of expression in the region in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa.

Your Excellency, those persons convicted and sentenced for their participation in the Berlin forum faced baseless, politically-motivated charges that they had “conspired to overthrow the system of the Islamic Republic.” On January 13, following secret trials that violated international fair trial standards, seven of the seventeen defendants received sentences of up to ten years in prison, and in the case of journalist Akbar Ganji an additional five years of internal exile. Two translators, Saeed Sadr and Khalil Rostam-Khani, were sentenced to ten and nine years respectively. Rostam-Khani did not even attend the Berlin conference, although he was involved in its preparation. The court sentenced to four and a half years in prison publisher and women’s rights activist Shahla Lahidji, who participated in MESA’s annual conference in 1998, and lawyer and writer Mehrangiz Kar, who participated in the MESA conference in 1996. Kar, who has been diagnosed with cancer, has been forbidden to travel abroad for medical treatment. Ezzatollah Sahabi, a prominent essayist and journalist, was sentenced to four and a half years. Fariborz Rais-Dana, an economist at Tehran University, received a three-year suspended sentence. Two other writers, Changiz Pahlevan and Kazem Kardavani, and translator Roshanak Darioush, have not returned to Iran because of the charges pending against them.

Hojjat al-Islam Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari, a respected independent writer and religious scholar and another participant in the Berlin forum, was held in solitary confinement for more than two months after his arrest in early August. He remains in prison awaiting sentencing following his conviction by Special Clergy Court on charges of apostasy and “corruption on earth,” which may be punishable by death. According to information we have received, the charges against him stem from remarks he reportedly made at the Berlin meeting in which he expressed his view that veiling and enforcement of strict dress codes against women were rooted in cultural traditions but not required by Islam.

Ali Reza Afshari, a leading student activist from Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran and a member of the central council of the Office to Foster Unity (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat), an organization supportive of President Khatami, was sentenced to five years in prison for his participation in the Berlin meeting. Afshari was also arrested in late December on separate charges of “espionage” and “spreading lies” following remarks he reportedly made on November 26 at Amir Kabir University, and in which he asserted that the role of the Supreme Leader as above the constitution (velayat-e faqih) should be decided by a popular referendum.

The January 17 summary closure of the journal Kiyan by Saeed Mortazavi, a judge in the Tehran General Court, was based on provisions of Iran’s penal code which empower the courts to seize and shut down “instruments used for committing crimes.” Judge Mortazavi reportedly claimed that Kiyan had “published lies, disturbed public opinion, and insulted sacred religion.” Such efforts by the government to criminalize the peaceful expression of critical thinking and writing displays a flagrant disregard for basic human rights that Iran is committed by treaty to uphold.

These systematic attacks by the government of Iran on the internationally protected right to freedom of expression and the right to impart and receive information appear to be designed solely to punish and intimidate independent critical thinkers and writers. As such, they constitute a blatant violation of the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the free exchange of ideas. The bringing of these charges against these individuals—not to mention their arbitrary arrest, denial of due process, and now their conviction—are entirely inconsistent with your government’s treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party, as well as your government’s declared objective of promoting “a dialogue of civilizations.”

As a matter of utmost urgency, therefore, we appeal to you, in your capacity as Supreme Leader, to take the following steps. First, we ask that you request Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, Head of the Judiciary, to drop all pending charges against Ali Reza Afshari, charges that are clearly intended to punish him for exercising his internationally protected right to freedom of expression and to intimidate others from exercising this right. Second, we ask that you take steps to ensure that the unjust Revolutionary Court convictions imposed on January 13 and the Special Clergy Court conviction of Hojjat al-Islam Eshkevari can be appealed to a higher body or bodies whose procedures comply with international fair trial standards in order that they may be overturned. Third, we ask that you revoke the ban against the journal Kiyan, as well as the closure orders against the many other independent publications that have been forcibly shut down by the authorities over the past year.

By taking these steps without delay, your government can avoid irreparable damage to Iran’s international standing as a country with a great tradition of learning and scholarly inquiry, and restore to Iranian society the benefits that result from the free exchange of ideas. We thank you in advance for your attention to this matter and look forward to your reply and corrective actions.

Sincerely,

Anne H. Betteridge
Executive Director

cc:
Hojjat al-Islam Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, Head of the Judiciary
Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights



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