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: June 24, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 24, 2020, authorities summoned Sedigheh Vasmaghi, a prominent scholar and lawyer, to the Revolutionary Court in apparent retaliation for signing a petition concerning the use of violent force during protests in November 2019.

Vasmaghi is a women’s rights activist, poet, formerly tenured professor of theology at the University of Tehran, and former writer in residence in Uppsala, Sweden through the International Cities of Refuge Network. In October 2017, Vasmaghi returned to Iran and was arrested at the airport. She was sentenced to five years in prison on a charge of “propaganda against the state,” in apparent connection to her publications and activism. In November, Vasmaghi was released on bail.

In November 2019, students, activists, and citizens held nationwide protests calling for an overhaul of the political system and government, sparked by a hike in fuel prices. Security forces reportedly used violent force to quash protests, including firearms, tear gas, batons, and water cannons, including against students at the University of Tehran (see report). Following the protests, Vasmaghi reportedly joined seventy-six others in signing a petition titled “Respect the People’s Demands,” condemning the violent crackdown on protests.

On June 24, 2020, Vasmaghi was summoned to the Revolutionary Court following a complaint filed by the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards’ Legal Division, which accuses Vasmaghi of “activities against the regime,” in connection to the petition. On August 4, in protest of the judiciary, Vasmaghi refused to appear at the Revolutionary Court when she was summoned for questioning. The court reportedly sentenced Vasmaghi to one year in prison for “propaganda against the regime,” in addition to her previous five year prison sentence. Vasmaghi is reportedly planning to appeal the sentence.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution and sentencing of a scholar in apparent retaliation for their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression — 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. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, prosecutions intended to punish expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.