Letter protesting the unjust prosecution and sentencing of Dr. Parviz Tarikhi in Iran

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o H.E. Mr. Majid Takht-Ravanchi
Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Email: [email protected]
Fax: +1 (212) 867-7086


Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, Head of the Judiciary
c/o H.E. Mr. Majid Takht-Ravanchi
Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Email: [email protected]
Fax: +1 (212) 867-7086


Your Excellencies, 

We write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) to express our concern over the imprisonment of celebrated and internationally renowned space scientist, Dr. Parviz Tarikhi, who has been serving a two-year sentence in Evin prison since December 2020. In 2018, Dr. Tarikhi was convicted of leaking classified information of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) and was sentenced to two years in prison along with a successive two-year ban from leaving Iran. His sentence was upheld on appeal. Dr. Tarikhi vehemently denies the charges and presented strong evidence disproving the allegations. His sentence and imprisonment are grave violations of his basic rights to academic freedom, guaranteed by Iran’s Constitution. We urge the Judiciary to dismiss the charges against Dr. Tarikhi and to free him without delay, so that he may continue his important scholarship on the peaceful uses of space science. 

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 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Dr. Tarikhi is a physicist and expert in space science and technology and has been affiliated with the ISA for many years. Between 2004 and 2006, Dr. Tarikhi served as Second Vice-Chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS). He is also a member of the International Association of Science Writers and is the recipient of numerous national and international awards for his contributions to the peaceful uses of space science.

In 2018, the ISA filed a complaint with the Security Division of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology charging Dr. Tarikhi with “leaking classified information of the Iranian Space Agency.” On 25 June of that year, the case was referred to Tehran’s Criminal Court. The complaint alleged that Dr. Tarikhi had received a covert invitation for collaboration from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, under the cover of Defar Inc., a company based in Spain. The complaint further claimed that Dr. Tarikhi had met with representatives of the company during a 2006 meeting of the COPUOS in Vienna, during which Dr. Tarikhi gave them valuable information about the ISA. It also asserted that, in a 2009 article entitled “Iran’s Space Program: Riding High for Peace and Pride,” Dr. Tarikhi connected the peaceful activities of the ISA to Iran’s military and nuclear endeavors.

Dr. Tarikhi vigorously rejects the charges and maintains that during the time of the 2006 COPUOS meeting, he was in fact in Iran. He insists that he did not travel outside the country in 2006 (nor in 2008 or 2009), facts that are corroborated by his passport and that thus disprove the allegation that Dr. Tarikhi had met with representatives of any company abroad, let alone one that acts as a front for Mossad. Also, in defense of his scholarly publication, Dr. Tarikhi noted that the references and sources cited in the 2009 article were publicly available and in no way impugn the ISA or connect it to Iran’s military or nuclear pursuits.

Despite his testimony and the significant evidence that refutes the charges against him, Tehran’s Criminal Court ruled that Dr. Tarikhi harmed ISA’s reputation abroad and that he had made sensitive material about the ISA’s plans and projects available to international audiences, including government agencies that are active in policy-making.

The Court sentenced Dr. Tarikhi to two years in prison to be followed by a two-year ban on leaving the country. The sentence was confirmed on appeal. In December 2020, with Iran still grappling with high rates of COVID-19 infections, particularly among its prison population, Dr. Tarikhi was summoned to begin his prison sentence. 

The sentence imposed on Dr. Tarikhi and his imprisonment are disturbing, not only for the injustice of the ruling, but also because the summons to serve his sentence came just as Iran was contending with the widespread occurrence of the COVID-19 virus in its prisons. Indeed, Iranian officials have released many prisoners or have placed them under house arrest as part of a laudable policy to bring the rate of infections under control. 

Your Excellencies, we ask that you reconsider this decision, withdraw the baseless charges against Dr. Tarikhi, and release him from prison so that he may return to his peaceful and important academic research. 

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your response. 


Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California


His Excellency, Dr. Hassan Rouhani, President

The Honorable Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, Minister of Information and Communications Technology
The Honorable Mahmoud Alavi, Minister of Intelligence
The Honorable Mohammad Javad Zarif, Minister of Foreign Affairs
The Honorable Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations

The Honorable Simonetta Di Pippo, Director, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs
The Honorable Michelle Bachelet, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Honorable Javaid Rehman, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

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