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: May 16, 2022

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Tehran Allameh Tabatabai University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 16, 2022, Iranian state media reported that prominent sociologist Saeed Madani was arrested for security charges and “suspicious foreign links.”

Mehr News Agency, which IranWire describes as “state-controlled,” released a brief report stating that Madani had been arrested and sent to prison. As summarized by Voice of America, the article stated that he “had met with allegedly suspicious foreign citizens and carried messages from them to local activists in Iran.” The article did not specify where he was being held. Two days prior to his arrest, Madani offered public comments to IranWire on the recent unrest in Iran and the persecution of protesters and other civil society members, saying that the “protests pose a serious challenge to the regime” and that a violent response to the protest by authorities would “only lead to worse tensions.”

Prior to his arrest, Madani was working at Iran’s Allameh University as a sociology professor. He had previously been arrested multiple times for his involvement in opposition groups and, in December 2021, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) prevented him from leaving Iran to begin a one-year research post at Yale University. IranWire asserts that the IRGC restricted his travel due to his criticism of the Iranian government’s pandemic response.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest of a scholar. 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 undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On December 27, 2022, it was reported the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran convicted Madani of “forming and managing anti-establishment groups” and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The court sentenced Madani to nine years’ imprisonment, with eight of those stemming from the first charge and one year for the second. The evidentiary basis for his prosecution reportedly included his book against capital punishment and his membership in an organization called the Civil Rights Association, according to a letter issued by the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom.