Sentences for non-violent student activists in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran 

c/o H.E. Mohammad Khazaee 

Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations 

622 Third Ave.  

New York, NY 10017 

Fax: (212) 867-7086 


Dear Ayatollah Khamenei, 

I write you once again on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the  Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our profound outrage  at the recent death sentences and executions, as well as continued harassment, imprisonment,  and expulsions targeting university faculty and administrators, teachers, and non-violent  student activists in the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and  North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International  Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed  to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in  connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere. 

We are gravely alarmed and disturbed by the Iranian government’s escalating and increasingly  brutal violations of academic rights and the most basic rights of freedom of opinion and  expression since our last letter to you on February 9, 2010 ( caf/letters_iran.html).  

We are distraught over the recent executions of 5 prisoners on May 9, among them the  Kurdish teacher and social justice activist Farzad Kamangar, a member of the Iranian  Teachers’ Trade Association. Kamangar had been arrested in 2006 and condemned to death  in 2008 on the alleged charge of belonging to an armed separatist Kurdish organization  and involvement in a series of bombings -- at a trial that lasted only a few minutes and  during which no substantiating evidence was presented by the prosecution in support of  these allegations. Moreover, all of these executions by hanging were carried out without  prior notification to the accused, their families, or their legal representatives. During their  detention, all of these individuals (Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Shirin Alam Hooli,  Farhad Vakili, and Mehdi Eslamian) were subjected to torture in an attempt to extract self incriminating confessions from them.  

Even while these executions continue to be harshly condemned by the international  community, the revolutionary courts (with the full sanction of the head of the Iranian  judiciary, Sadegh Larijani) have been handing down excessive, unwarranted sentences to  many of the hundreds of teachers, university faculty, and students rounded up since the  contested election of June 12, 2009. These cruel and harsh measures, fully endorsed by others as additional means of creating an atmosphere of fear with the approach of the anniversary of  last summer’s large-scale demonstrations in Iran in the aftermath of the presidential election.  

In addition to harsh interrogation tactics, routine torture, forced self-incriminating confessions, and long prison sentences, the judiciary of the Islamic Republic has been zealous  in accusing detained individuals of being “mohareb” (i.e., one who wages war against God)  and sentencing them to death. We find extremely reprehensible the increasingly recurrent  application by the Iranian judiciary of the noxious designation of mohareb, which carries  the death penalty, particularly when sentencing individuals arrested for peaceful expression  of independent thought (guaranteed by the constitution of the Islamic Republic as well  as the UN Declaration of Human Rights) or for other acts that do not otherwise merit  drastic sentences under the Iranian law. Among those currently awaiting execution for allegedly being a mohareb is the teacher Abdul-Reza Ghanbari. He was arrested during the  Ashura street protests of December 27, 2009 for chanting anti-government slogans and was  subsequently tortured, accused of belonging to an armed anti-regime organization, tried  without access to an independent legal representative, and sentenced to death by hanging. We ask that this sentence be overturned immediately. While we welcome the recent commutation  (to 3 ½ years imprisonment) of the original death sentence handed down to 20-year-old  student activist Mohammad-Amin Valian of the central council of the Islamic Student Association of Damghan Science University, who had confessed to throwing stones at the  security forces attacking the demonstrators during the Ashura street protests, we urge the  Iranian judiciary to consider even greater lenience for Mr. Valian.  

Since our last letter, there has been a chronically worsening climate of state-sponsored intimidation and persecution in the Islamic Republic of student activists, university and  school instructors and administrators, intellectuals and scholars at large, as well as artists,  trade unionists, and human rights and gender rights activists on patently ideological grounds.  Teachers’ rights activists and members of teachers’ unions and councils have also been targets  of systematic persecution. Many have been summoned to court and fined or sentenced for  their peaceful advocacy of improved work conditions, better pay and benefits, greater job  security, and/or criticism of the government’s mistreatment of colleagues or student activists.  The many teachers currently in detention on spurious charges include Hashem Khastar, a  retired teacher and head of the Mashhad Teachers’ Trade Union Center, who was arrested  in June 2009, released a few weeks later, and then rearrested again on September 16. He is  reported to be in poor health and lacking access to adequate medical care while in prison.  Other jailed teachers’ rights campaigners include Mohammad Davari, Rassoul Bedaghi, Ali Akbar Baghani, Ali-Reza Hashemi, Mahmoud Beheshti Langaroudi, Hossein Bastaninejad  and Ghorban Ahmadi. The arrests and intimidation of teachers’ rights activists were stepped  up with the approach of Labor Day and Teachers’ Day celebrations in Iran (on May 1 and  May 2 respectively).

Student Association, and the Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity (daftar-e tahkim-e  vahdat), many of whose members are routinely arrested and/or fined, beaten, expelled from universities, and threatened by the authorities. We are particularly concerned about the case  of Kouhyar Goudarzi, an expelled Sharif University (Tehran) student and a member of the  alumni association of the Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity as well as a member of  the Committee of Human Rights Reporters and a former member of the Islamic Student  Association, who was arrested on December 20, 2009 on his way to the funeral of Grand  Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. He was recently transferred to solitary confinement and  his lawyer has been informed that his court file is missing. We are also anxious about the  deteriorating health of the detained vice-secretary of the Tehran branch of the Office for  Fostering [Student] Solidarity, Shabnam Madadzadeh. Two senior members of the same  organization, Bahareh Hedayat and Milad Asadi (arrested in December 2009 for criticizing  the government), were sentenced on May 20 to 9 ½ years and 7 years imprisonment  respectively. The recent harsh and unjustified jail sentences meted out to student activists and  to former students banned from continuing their education inside Iran also include 3 years  for Arash Sadeghi, 1 year for Mohammad Youssef Rashidi, 15 years for Ali Kantoori, 4 years  for Mehdi Khoda’i, 1 year and 74 lashes for Ali-Reza Azabad , 15 years for Ziaoddin Nabavi,  28 months for Mahdiyeh Golrou, 1 year and 74 lashes for Peyman Aref, 4 years for Hessam  Salamat, 6 years for Majid Dorri (Nabavi, Golrou, Aref, Salamat, and Dorri are members  of the Council for Defending the Right to Education), 9 years for Arsalan Abdi, 3 years  for Saman Nouranian, and 6 years for Pouya Ghorbani, whose brother and wife were also  arrested (his wife being sentenced to 2 ½ years imprisonment). 

All of these detainees have reportedly been subjected to physical and/or psychological torture,  including threats made against their families, as in the case of Ghorbani and Abdi. In the case  of the latter, the authorities threatened to detain and harm his sisters as a means of extracting false confession from him. Hundreds more detained students currently await sentencing  under similar conditions for non-violent activities and participation in street demonstrations,  and many of them are being denied access to urgent medical care. These include the (Tehran)  Allameh Tabataba’i University student Hamed Omidi, who was arrested for condemning  the execution in November 2009 of a Kurdish activist Ehsan Fattahian. Omidi, who was  previously tortured, was severely beaten following his condemnation of the recent executions  of Kamangar, Heydarian, Alam Hooli, Vakili, and Eslamian on May 9. 

The process of expelling student activists from university campuses and of “starring” and  banning students from continuing their education inside Iran continues unabated. Among  the most recent examples is the expulsion of five students from Shiraz University on May  18 (Esmail Jalilvand, Kazem Reza’i, Abdoljalil Reza’i, Hamdollah Namjou, and Younes  Mirhosseini). There has also been a recent upsurge in the dismissal or forced resignation and  retirement of university faculty and administrators as well as school teachers. These actions  are indicative of an ongoing campaign to remove from campuses and schools those educators  and students considered ideologically insubordinate to the state and at odds with the policies  the Allameh Tabataba’i University and Dr. Touraj Mohammadi, Dr. Mohammad Shahri,  and Dr. Sayyid Ali-Asghar Beheshti-Shirazi of the Elm-va-San‘at University. Among other dismissed faculty at various universities are such distinguished professors as Mohammad Reza  Shafiee-Kadkani, Saba Vasefi, Mahmoud Erfani, Amir-Nasser Katouzian, Reza Davari, Karim  Mojtahedi, Ali Sheikholeslami, Hassan Bashiriyeh, Abolghassem Gorji, Mohammad Ashuri,  and Jamshid Momtaz. We deplore public statements by government officials that openly  call for “cleansing” university campuses of those deemed ideologically disloyal to the state  on grounds of upholding secular worldviews, not adhering to the particular interpretation  of Shi’i Islam advocated by the Iranian state, or diverging from the state’s political ideology,  as in the repeated statements made by the controversial minister of Science, Research, and Technology, Kamran Daneshjou ( & ir.html). 

These cases comprise only some of the random examples of the extensive and heightened  persecution by Iranian authorities of independent-minded academics, scholars, students,  and intellectuals, as well as the more broad-ranging callous violations of the basic rights of  academic freedom, freedom of expression, and human rights by the authorities. Among  others, we are particularly apprehensive about the fate of Shiva Nazar Ahari. Nazar Ahari,  a prominent human rights and women’s rights activist and journalist belonging to the  Committee of Human Rights Reporters, is also one of the Islamic Republic’s thousands  of “starred and banned university students” and a member of the Council for Defending  the Right to Education. She was arrested on December 20, 2009 along with Goudarzi and  others en route to the funeral service for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. She has served prior  jail sentences and is now being falsely accused by the authorities of belonging to a terrorist  organization aiming to overthrow the Iranian regime, a pernicious allegation frequently made  by the authorities against non-violent activists whom they seek to silence (with the charge  carrying one of the harshest possible sentences under Iranian law).  

In addition to these developments, which paint an increasingly bleak picture of the  conditions in Iran, we stress once again that we remain concerned about the fate of  those student activists, teachers, university faculty and administrators, and scholars and  intellectuals arrested earlier on an array of unsubstantiated charges and who are still in  detention. Among these are the student activist Majid Tavakoli, the former chancellor of  the University of Tehran Dr. Mohammad Maleki, and the social scientist and researcher Dr.  Kian Tajbakhsh. Tavakoli, a member of the Amir Kabir University of Technology’s Islamic  Student Association, was arrested following a speech he gave on December 7, 2009 (during  the commemoration of the National Student Day in Iran), and was subsequently sentenced  to 8 ½ years imprisonment. Tavakoli, whose health has been fast deteriorating in recent  weeks, began a hunger strike on May 23 after being transferred to solitary confinement. The  77-year-old Maleki, arrested on August 22, 2009 and currently released on bail, is facing  the charge of “mohareb,” which carries the death sentence. Tajbakhsh, our internationally national security. We ask for the immediate revocation of all charges against these individuals.  We remind you as well that the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 23) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 18, 19, 21) guarantee the  basic rights of freedom of thought and expression. The Islamic Republic of Iran is currently  by far one of the worst perpetrators of violent state-sponsored infringement of academic  rights. We hope you will take the initiative to remedy these conditions and will respond  to our letter. We also ask you to reflect on the ethical, moral, and social dimensions and  ramifications of the injustice committed by Iranian authorities and the suffering inflicted on  innocent people.  


Roger M.A. Allen 

MESA President  

Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania 


Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 

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