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: June 16, 2015

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 16, 2015, Iranian authorities reportedly arrested without a warrant Mohammad Hossein Rafiee, a retired scholar of chemistry who had been released on bail pending charges including “membership of an illegal and anti-national security group,” “propaganda against the regime,” and “the use of television satellite equipment.” Professor Rafiee is currently serving a six-year prison sentence and facing a two-year ban on political and media activities connected to these charges, both of which are in apparent retaliation for Professor Rafiee’s nonviolent, expressive activity.

Professor Rafiee was previously a professor of chemistry at Tehran University until his retirement in 2011, and has since continued his work as an activist, focusing on democracy and human rights. In 2014, Professor Rafiee published an analysis of the Iran nuclear situation entitled “The Geneva Agreement,” in which he expressed support for the Geneva nuclear agreement and called for democratic reforms and improved human rights conditions in Iran. Professor Rafiee reportedly sent the analysis to the Iranian authorities and published it on his website. On June 30, 2014, shortly after he publicly discussed the analysis, Iranian intelligence officers reportedly raided two of Professor Rafiee’s private residences in Tehran and Damavand, confiscating publications, papers and laptops.

Nearly one year later, on May 15, 2015, Branch 15 of Iran’s Revolutionary Court brought charges against Professor Rafiee including “membership of an illegal and anti-national security group [Melli Mazhabi],” “propaganda against the regime,” and “the use of television satellite equipment.” The first charge is apparently identical to a charge brought against Professor Rafiee in 2003, which relates to his membership to Melli Mazhabi, a reportedly peaceful opposition group that has been banned in Iran (reintroducing this offence is illegal under Iran’s ten-year statute of limitations). On May 25, Professor Rafiee was sentenced to six years in prison and a two-year ban on political and media activities; however, the presiding judge stated that Professor Rafiee should be granted bail pending an appeal and final decision.

On June 16, shortly after Professor Rafiee filed his appeal, members of Iran’s Disciplinary Force and Intelligence Service reportedly stopped him on the street and arrested him without a warrant; they later brought him to Evin Prison. On January 24, 2016, an appeal hearing was held for Professor Rafiee, which he reportedly refused to attend due to the authorities’ refusal to allow him to wear his own clothes instead of a prison uniform at the hearing. On February 22, Branch 54 of the Court of Appeal upheld the initial charges against Professor Rafiee as well as the six year prison sentence and two-year ban on political and media activities. As of this report, Professor Rafiee remains in Evin Prison where he has reported inhumane conditions.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the imprisonment and prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent, expressive activity related to his professional expertise – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On September 18, 2016, Professor Rafiee’s family reported that he was granted one month medical leave. It is unclear whether authorities will extend his leave or adjust his sentence.


No Official Reason Given for Former Professor and Activist’s Arrest