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: October 11, 2019

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):University of Tehran

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 11, 2019, it was reported that University of Tehran (UT) student Saha Mortezaei was denied enrollment into a PhD program in apparent retaliation for her political activism.

Iranian authorities have periodically engaged in the practice of banning students from higher education for their political expression or activism. In December 2017, for example, authorities acknowledged banning 27 students from graduate programs (see report).

In December 2017, students participated in nationwide protests over Iran’s ruling regime. Universities, including UT became major sites of the protests. In early January 2018, police reportedly arrested as many as 150 students in connection with the nationwide protests, including Mortezaei, the former secretary of the University Trade Unions’ Council of Iran. In September 2018, Mortezaei was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from political activity for two years. She had reportedly been free on bail and waiting for a ruling on her case by the appeals court.

On October 11, 2019, Mortezaei reported that she had been denied enrollment in a UT PhD program, despite ranking tenth on the national exam for doctoral studies in political science. According to Mortezaei, the National Organization of Educational Testing had received letters from the Intelligence Ministry and UT’s security office recommending that Mortezaei should not be accepted into the Ph.D. program.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparent blacklisting of a student from higher education in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by 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. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Expulsions, suspensions, and related pressures at limiting such activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.