On December 7, 2021, sociology professor and former political prisoner Saeed Madani was prevented from leaving Iran to begin a one-year research post at Yale University, in the United States.
Madani previously worked as a professor at the University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Services. His research focuses on poverty, drug addiction, sex work, and child abuse, among other topics. He has been arrested and imprisoned several times for his membership in the banned Nationalist-Religious Alliance, which Iran International describes as “a group of small non-violent religious opposition groups that favor political reform and welfare economics.” Iranian authorities have also banned the publication of his books without a court order to do so, which Madani protested in a letter to the country’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mohammad-Mehdi Esmaili, in late 2021.
In early December 2021, Madani was set to travel to the United States to begin a one-year research post at Yale University. According to a letter that Madani later sent to Iran’s Minister of Justice, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, he was interrogated by intelligence officials two days prior to his scheduled flight out of Iran and informed that he could travel. However, on December 7, the day of his flight, authorities stopped Madani at his gate in the airport and prevented him from boarding his flight. He was then taken to the police station where he was interrogated by officers from various security agencies about his views and activities. The officers ultimately informed Madani that he was banned from traveling and confiscated his passport. As of January 21, he had still not been informed of the reason for the ban.
On January 11, four sociologists issued a statement condemning the travel ban on Madani and the publication restrictions on his work. According to Iran International, in Iran “foreign travel bans often prevent activists, political figures, and former officials from participating in international academic events and seminars.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about state authorities denying a scholar exit from their country in an apparent effort to restrict or retaliate against their nonviolent exercise of academic freedom – 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. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from actions that restrict or retaliate against academic activity so long as it is peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions intended to deter such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.