Iran: new charges against student HRDs and unjustified suspension or termination of their university studies (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Iran on 18 October 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received, it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

Since the sending of the communication, Branch 36 of the Court of Appeal of Tehran Province confirmed on 25 October 2023 the 1-year prison sentence for Ms. Hasti Amiri and Mr. Zia Nabavi. The situation of Mr. Shahryar Shams remains unchanged.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: new charges against student activists and unjustified suspension or termination of their university studies.

Ms. Hasti Amiri is a women’s rights defender and student activist. In 2022, she was sentenced to a one-year prison term resulting from her participation in the International Women’s Day celebrations and her stance against the death penalty. In July 2023, she was again imprisoned, in relation to her alleged engagement in a protest at her university.

Mr. Zia Nabavi is a human rights defender and campaigner for students’ rights. He spent nine years in prison for his activities in student unions and was released in 2018 after completing his sentence. Following his release, he received additional prison sentences in 2021 and 2023 due to his human rights activities. His latest sentence was the result of his participation in a protest at Allameh Tabatabai University. Mr. Nabavi has faced educational bans on three occasions, including a 2022 prohibition to pursue a PhD.

Mr. Shahriyar Shams is a human rights defender and student activist. He has faced persecution and has been expelled from university due to his participation in peaceful protests, his advocacy for prisoners’ rights, particularly those on death row, as well as students’ socio-economic and cultural rights.

ALLEGATIONS

The case of Ms Hasti Amiri

In January 2022, Ms. Amiri was arrested by security agents at her residence in Tehran. The arrest was made on the basis of a warrant issued by the second branch of the investigations at Moghadas Prosecutor’s Office in Evin Prison, specializing in cases related to national security crimes. She was subsequently released on bail the following day.

In March 2022, the 26th branch of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Ms. Amiri to a one-year prison term on charges related to propaganda against the state. These charges related to her involvement in the 8th of March International Women’s Day event and her vocal opposition to the death penalty. She also faced a two-year ban on affiliating with political and social entities, both online and offline, and her cell phone was confiscated.

In May 2022, the appellate court upheld the primary court’s sentence without revision.

On 31 July 2022, Ms. Amiri was detained at her residence by security agents and transferred to Tehran’s Evin Prison.

On 7 February 2023, Ms. Amiri was released from prison as part of a pardon granted on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

On 9 August 2023, Ms. Amiri was sentenced to an additional year in prison by the 26th branch of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. This conviction was based on charges of engaging in propaganda against the state due to her participation in a protest organized by students at Allameh Tabatabai University. The protest aimed to address instances of the school poisoning attacks that affected numerous schoolgirls since November 2022.

The case of Mr. Zia Nabavi

In 2007, Mr. Nabavi, along with 15 other students, was arrested during a university hunger strike. He was released from prison on bail and subsequently acquitted of all charges. Nevertheless, he received a two-semester suspension from the university.

In 2009, Mr. Nabavi was arrested for participating in protests against the presidential election results and for his involvement in the “Defend the Rights to Education Committee,” a group focused on highlighting the situation of student activists that were banned by the state from continuing higher education in Iranian universities. He was initially charged with various offenses including “gathering and colluding against national security,” “propaganda against the system,” “disturbing public order” and “moharebeh” (enmity against God), however, the charges were eventually reduced to “creating unease in the public mind,” leading to a 15-year prison sentence and 74 lashings. An appeal in May 2010 successfully reduced his sentence to ten years.

On 14 February 2018, Mr. Nabavi was released from prison after serving 9 years of his sentence.

On 25 February 2020, Mr. Nabavi was arrested at his residence by security forces who also conducted a search and seized his personal belongings. He was subsequently released on bail on 2 March 2020.

On 29 June 2021, he was informed of a one-year prison sentence for his student union activities and peaceful protests after the admission by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) regarding the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January 2020. On 25 October 2021, Branch 36 of the Tehran Court of Appeals confirmed the one-year sentence without holding a court session.

On 9 August 2023, Mr. Nabavi, along with Ms. Amiri, was sentenced to an additional one-year imprisonment by the 26th branch of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. The conviction was based on charges of propaganda against the state, arising from a protest organized at Allameh Tabatabai University by students to address the November 2022 school poisoning attacks.

The case of Mr. Shahriyar Shams

In December 2017, Mr. Shams was arrested by State security agents at the age of eighteen in connection with a protest rally of June 2017 in Tehran. He received a five-year prison sentence for charges of “gathering and colluding to act against national security,” a one-year prison term for “propaganda activities against the state,” and a two-year ban on social group membership for “disturbing public opinion.”

In June 2020, the court of appeal reduced Mr. Shams’ sentence to three and a half years for “gathering and colluding to act against national security” and seven and a half months for “propaganda activities against the state.” The two-year ban on social group membership for “distributing public opinion” was upheld. Following article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, the most severe single sentence, three and a half years in prison, was to be executed.

In July 2020, Mr. Shams began serving his sentence. On 4 September 2021, he received a medical furlough after serving almost a year in prison. He was conditionally released with the suspension of the remainder of his sentence.

On 29 September 2022, Mr. Shams was arrested following a raid on his residence shortly after the onset of the mass protests in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The arrest was linked to his social media posts advocating for prisoners’ rights and reporting on protestors facing the death penalty. On 4 November 2022, Mr. Shams was arrested for the second time during protests.

On 14 November 2022, Mr. Shams was released on bail. He is currently awaiting two trials pertaining to charges brought against him following both prior arrests.

On 8 June 2023, Mr. Shams disclosed on his Twitter account that he had been expelled from his undergraduate studies at Azad University of Tehran, North Branch. The decision was made by the university’s disciplinary committee and published on the university portal without further explanation. He intends to appeal the decision, attributing it to his human rights activities at the university.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we express deep concern at this continuous cycle of persecution, which appears to be in retaliation for Ms. Amiri, Mr. Nabavi and Mr. Shams’ human rights activities and critical or dissenting opinions. As such, the criminalization of these individuals prima facie constitutes violation of their right to freedom of opinion and expression as well as freedom of peaceful assembly. We are deeply troubled by the new and excessive prison sentences received by Ms. Amiri and Mr. Nabavi, simply due to their alleged participation in a peaceful university protest highlighting the absence of proper state-led investigations into poisonings affecting schoolgirls. Equally troubling are the recent allegations against Mr. Shams, which appear to be closely linked to his advocacy for the protection and promotion of human rights. Of particular concern are the reports indicating Mr. Shams and Mr. Nabavi have been expelled, suspended or banned from academic institutions, effectively denying them the right to pursue higher education.

These actions seem to be part of a broader pattern, reflective of a crackdown on university students and professors, their human rights, physical integrity and academic freedom, throughout Iran. This broader pattern includes arbitrary arrests, charges, prison sentences handed down without respect for due process, and expulsions—a trend that has been evident since the September 2022 protests in Iran.

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