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: November 17, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):University of Tehran

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On November 17, 2019, University of Tehran (UT) student, Saha Mortezaei, was reportedly arrested and imprisoned for protesting an order banning her from higher education for two years.

Authorities had arrested Mortezaei in early January 2018 for allegedly participating in the nationwide protests over Iran’s ruling regime that began in December 2017. Mortezaei currently faces a six-year prison sentence, as well as a two-year ban from political activity. Mortezaei has reportedly been free on bail pending an appeal of her conviction. On October 11, 2019, it was reported that Mortezaei had been denied enrollment in a UT PhD program, in apparent retaliation for her past activism (see report).

Beginning on October 11, Mortezaei began a sit-in in front of UT’s library to protest her ban from higher education. It was later reported that in a meeting with the head of UT’s security department and Mortezaei’s family, the university’s security department threatened that Mortezaei would be arrested if she continued her sit-in.

On November 17, police detained Mortezaei and brought her to Evin Prison. On December 30, Mortezaei reportedly started a hunger strike to protest of the amount of her bail, 500 million tomans (about US $150,000). Authorities reportedly then transferred Mortezaei from Evin prison to Gharchack prison. Authorities have not publicly disclosed the charges against Mortezaei, if any, or the grounds for her arrest.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a student in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity — 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 authorities have an obligation to refrain from actions intended to restrict or retaliate against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, wrongful arrests in connection with nonviolent expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On November 10, 2020, Soha Mortezaei was sentenced to six years in prison for her protest actions.