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 18, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):University of Tehran

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 18, 2019, paramilitary forces reportedly clashed with students from the University of Tehran (UT) and arrested dozens in an apparent attempt to restrict their participation in nationwide protests.

Beginning on November 15, students, activists, and citizens have held nationwide protests calling for an overhaul of the political system and government, sparked by a hike in fuel prices. Security forces have reportedly used violent force to quash protests, including firearms, tear gas, batons, and water cannons. On November 16, authorities shut down internet access to the outside world. Human rights groups report at least 106 protesters have been killed and more than 1,000 arrested, as of November 19. 

On November 18, UT students reportedly gathered on campus to march to Enghelab Square to join a demonstration with protesters and students from other universities. Before the UT students were able to leave campus, they were confronted by paramilitary forces who apparently prevented them from leaving campus to join the demonstration. The student union reported in a post on Twitter that plainclothes paramilitary forces arrested students, placed them inside ambulances, and brought them to Evin Prison and the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary. 

Between November 18 and 21, authorities reportedly arrested several students in retaliation for their participation in the protests. The UT Vice Chancellor reported that they do not know which government body detained the students. Authorities have not publicly disclosed the grounds for the student arrests or what charges the students face, if any.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force and detentions to restrict student expression — 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 a responsibility to protect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.