SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 13, 2013

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):University of Liege

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 13, 2013, Iranian authorities arrested and later sentenced doctoral student Hamid Babaei to six years in prison on charges of “acting against national security by communicating with a hostile government” in apparent retaliation for his refusal to spy on fellow Iranian students in Belgium.

In July 2013, Mr. Babaei, who is a doctoral student in finance at the University of Liege in Belgium, travelled with his wife to Iran for a family visit, during which Iranian intelligence officials reportedly asked Mr. Babaei to spy on Iranian students in Belgium. Mr. Babaei reportedly refused their request. The following month, Iranian authorities reportedly prevented Mr. Babaei and his wife from returning to Belgium, and, on August 13, they arrested Mr. Babaei.

On December 21, 2013, after four months in detention, including three weeks of solitary confinement, Iran’s Revolutionary Court charged Mr. Babaei with “acting against national security by communicating with a hostile government” and sentenced him to six years in prison. The charge is the apparent result of Mr. Babaei’s refusal to the government’s request to spy on Iranian students in Belgium. The court reportedly cited Mr. Babaei’s scholarship from the University of Liege as the primary piece of evidence against him. Mr. Babaei, who has reportedly been denied access to a lawyer of his choosing, has repeatedly denied the charge. Mr. Babaei’s wife has reported that, since his detention at Evin Prison, he has been denied family visits and access to medical treatment, which has reportedly resulted in escalating health issues.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the restricted movement, prosecution, and imprisonment of a student in apparent retaliation for refusal to spy on behalf of government officials. The arrest, prolonged detention, and conviction of a student without substantial evidence, together with reports of denied access to family visits or medical treatment, suggest a troubling disregard for international standards of due process, fair trial, and detention, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran has acceded.  In addition to the harm to the student, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from arbitrary arrests and prosecution of students exercising their internationally recognized right to education and freedom of movement.