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: May 20, 2017

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Islamic Azad University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 20, 2017, officials at Islamic Azad University (IAU) reportedly expelled Farzad Safaei, apparently on the basis of his religious beliefs.

Mr. Safaei is a fourth-year student of industrial metallurgy at IAU who claims to be a member of the Baha’i faith. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, members of the Baha’i faith have experienced discrimination in schools, work, and other areas of public life, as well as violence and imprisonment. 

According to Mr. Safaei, he had not shared his religious beliefs with anyone at the university until May 20, 2017 when he learned that he was unable to log into the university’s website. When he went to the university’s security director to determine the problem, he was reportedly asked to fill in the religious affiliation field on his enrollment form, which he had previously left blank. Mr. Safaei wrote in “Baha’i” (which was not one of the listed options). Reviewing his answer, the security director reportedly asked, “Don’t you know Baha’is have no right to go to university? Why did you enroll in the first place? You’re like a car low on fuel that wants to go far. You knew you would get stuck eventually.” Mr. Safaei was then ordered expelled from IAU, just one semester before he was expected to graduate.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary expulsion of a student in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of religion — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. University authorities have a responsibility to refrain from arbitrary expulsions and other disciplinary measures to restrict the peaceful exercise of internationally recognized rights to freedom of religion and expression.