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 25, 2020

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):University of Mohaghegh Ardabili

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 25, 2020, it was reported that the University of Mohaghegh Ardabili (UMA) suspended fifteen students for holding a vigil for the victims of a Ukrainian airliner crash 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 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.

Over five months later, on June 24, it was reported that UMA suspended fifteen students for organizing a vigil, allegedly without a permit. According to reporting by Al Arabiya, the disciplinary measure was also intended to “help keep the university’s educational atmosphere healthy.” UMA has not publicly disclosed the duration of the suspension.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the suspension of students, in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected under 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. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspensions aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.