On May 13, 2023, Al Zahra University suspended Sepideh Rashno, a 28-year-old Iranian writer and student, for two semesters for not wearing a hijab at the university.
On May 28, 2023, Rashno posted on her Instagram account that the university administration had suspended her after she rejected their request that she take two semesters of academic leave. Rashno protested the decision, stating, “As a citizen, I have the right to choose the clothes I wear.”
Rashno has a history of activism. In July 2022, she was found guilty of “propaganda activity against the government,” and not wearing a hijab in public after a public argument with a hijab enforcer on a city bus. She was given a delayed five year prison sentence. After her suspension, on May 28, 2023, the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office summoned her to appear in court in a new case related to social media posts she made about the execution of three political prisoners in Isfahan.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by a university banning a student for her peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression – 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 party to. Higher education authorities should refrain from such disciplinary actions and respect students’ exercise of the rights to freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, disciplinary actions intended to deter or punish organized student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.