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 04, 2021

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Islamic Azad University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 4, 2021, philosophy professor Bijan Abdolkarimi was fired from Islamic Azad University, apparently for a speech he gave in 2019 at a government function in Iran.

Abdolkarimi had taught at Azad University since 2001. According to Iran International, his primary academic focuses are “political philosophy and the historical differences between the East and the West.” During the past several years, Abdolkarimi had given several speeches in which he criticized the current Iranian government by comparing it to the Pahlavi dynasty, which ruled Iran from 1925 to 1979. 

On September 5, Mehr News Agency reported that the previous day, Abdolkarimi had been fired and expelled from the faculty of Azad University due to his defense of the Pahlavi dynasty. However, as reported by RFERL, Abdolkarimi asserted that he was fired instead due to a 2019 speech he gave at a government function, which “university staff interpreted as supportive of the mass street protests that followed Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in 2009.” Speaking with RFI, he stated that in the speech he “mentioned the need for popular participation in the fight against the issue of domination and hegemony” and that “some people interpreted my words in support of what they call ‘sedition’” (translated from Persian via Google Translate). Immediately after the speech, Abdolkarimi alleges that he was suspended from teaching and withheld his salary for a period of six months, despite a court order to release it.

Following widespread criticism of Abdolkarimi’s dismissal, the university’s president, Mohammad Mehdi Tehranchi, wrote a letter on September 6 to Mohsen Borgozi – the head of the university’s Center for Legal Affairs and Asset Protection – ordering him to reconsider the decision and to halt Abdolkarimi’s dismissal until that review was complete. In response, Borgozi stated that Abdolkarimi’s disciplinary case was on the Center’s agenda for further discussion. However, as of January 27, 2022, it remained unclear whether Abdolkarimi would be allowed to teach again.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by a university firing a professor for exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression – conduct that 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 party. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against such conduct. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, the arbitrary dismissal of a professor for expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.