On January 16, 2020, Iranian security forces reportedly detained at least eight University of Tehran students in apparent connection with their alleged plans to participate in a student protest over the Iranian government’s role in shooting down a Ukrainian airliner on January 8.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after takeoff, leaving 176 passengers and crew members dead. The crash occurred hours after the Iranian military fired a series of ballistic missiles at US military sites in Iraq, in retaliation for the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the US on January 3. On the morning of January 11, Iranian state officials announced that its military had unintentionally shot down Flight 752, having mistaken it for a hostile target. The Iranian government had previously rejected allegations that the plane had been shot down, claiming mechanical issues instead. Protests were quickly organized in response to the government’s admission, were met with intense police force, including the tear gassing of student protesters at Amirkabir University of Technology (see report).
At the University of Tehran, plainclothes state security forces reportedly conducted a raid on student dormitories on January 16. Security forces were apparently seeking students preparing to participate in one of the protests over Flight 752. At least eight students, whose names have not been disclosed, were reportedly taken into custody.
Following the detentions, university security personnel allegedly told students to refrain from speaking to the media about the raid, according to one student interviewed by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). The same student also reported that students protesting the raid and detentions were intimidated by a group of state security forces on motorbike.
As of this report, there is no public information indicating when the detained students are expected to appear in court or what charges, if any, they face.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about a campus raid and the detention of students in an apparent effort to restrict 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 a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, arbitrary detentions and campus raids in connection with expressive activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.