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: April 28, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Tehran

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 28, 2020, it was reported that Amir Mohammad Sharifi, a student at the University of Tehran (UT), was sentenced to three months in prison for nonviolent expressive activity, including his alleged participation in protests over the Iranian government’s role in the downing of a Ukrainian airliner.

On January 8, 2020, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed outside Tehran shortly after takeoff, leaving 176 passengers and crew members dead. The crash occurred hours after the Iranian military began firing a series of ballistic missiles at US military sites in Iraq, in retaliation for the US killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani days earlier, on January 3.

The Iranian government initially rejected allegations that the plane had been shot down, claiming that it had crashed due to mechanical issues. However, by the morning of January 11, Iranian officials announced that its military had unintentionally shot down Flight 752, having mistaken it for a hostile target.

Hours after the government’s announcement, university students and others held vigils for those who had died in the crash and protested the government’s role in and response to the plane’s downing. Police quickly attempted to quash the gatherings using physical force and detaining students. In the months that followed, a growing number of individuals would face prosecution for their alleged participation in the protests.

On April 28, Sharifi’s lawyer, Ali Mojtahedzadeh, stated on Twitter that Branch 26 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court convicted Sharifi of “propaganda against the state” and sentenced him to three months in prison. According to a May 1 Tweet by Sharifi, the charge apparently stem from photos he had posted to Twitter of plainclothes police officers entering a student dormitory in connection with the protests.

On May 8, Sharifi stated on Twitter that he will not appeal the court’s ruling because he believes the appellate court will not be impartial.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of a student in apparent retaliation for their alleged exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. State authorities are obligated to refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expression and assembly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, prosecutions intended to punish expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.