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: September 01, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Nicolaus Copernicus University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In September 2021, Iranian authorities reportedly arrested three professors from Poland’s Nicolaus Copernicus University (NCU) for espionage. On July 8, 2022, it was reported that one of the professors, Maciej Walczak, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Walczak, the head of the environmental microbiology and biotechnology department of NCU, reportedly traveled to Iran with two of his colleagues. On July 7, 2022, Iranian state media reported that Walczak was in custody and alleged that he had taken samples of soil, rock, water, and mud in a restricted area. While Walczak’s colleagues were reportedly released and returned to Poland, Walczak remained in custody. An NCU spokesperson told BBC Farsi that Walcazek was sentenced to three years in prison. Authorities have not provided any public information on the charges against Walczak.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparently arbitrary arrest and prosecution of scholars. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from taking action to restrict or retaliate against the peaceful exercise of academic freedom and/or the rights to freedom expression and freedom of association – conduct which is 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 signatory. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, such arbitrary arrests and prosecutions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.