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: May 01, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Tehran

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 1, 2020, it was reported that Mostafa Hashemizadeh, a civil engineering student at the University of Tehran (UT), was sentenced to six years in prison for his alleged participation in a protest over the Iranian government’s role in the downing of a Ukrainian airliner in January 2020.

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 May 1, Mostafa Hashemizadeh stated on Twitter that Branch 26 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court had convicted him of “disturbing public order” and “colluding against national security” for his alleged participation in the January protests. Hashemizadeh further reported that he was sentenced to six years in prison, 74 lashes, a two-year ban from entering student dormitories, and three months of community service at Tehran’s Niayesh Psychiatric Hospital.

As of this report, there is no public information indicating the evidentiary basis, if any, for the state’s prosecution of Hashemizadeh, or whether he is free pending an appeal of his conviction and sentencing.

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.