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Events at Conference for Iranian Studies Demonstrate Restrictions on Academic Freedom in Iran

2 August 2012

(New Haven, USA; with reporting from Istanbul, Turkey) -- The ninth biennial conference of the International Society of Iranian Studies (ISIS) began today with a series of panel discussions featuring social scientists, artists and literary scholars who study Iran. This year the ISIS conference was staged in Istanbul, Turkey in the interest of providing accessibility to scholars from the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), as Turkey is one of the few countries that allows visa-free access for Iranian passport holders. Over seventy scholars from Iran were scheduled to lead or take part in discussions on topics ranging from Iranian court politics in late antiquity to the aesthetics of vocal music in contemporary Iran.

Kayhan, a newspaper under the direct supervision of the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the IRI, has published several articles decrying the conference and its organizers in recent weeks. Although the attendees are reputed scholars in the fields of history, sociology, literature, and the anthropology of Iran, Kayhan repeatedly derided the conference as a "Zionist and monarchist" event. As support, Kayhan claimed that the allegations of Zionism were substantiated by the fact that one of the conference's 125 scheduled panel discussions was on "Baha'i and Babi Studies", while another offered an historical perspective on Iran-Israel relations.

Since the propaganda campaign against the conference began two weeks ago, over fifty scholars from Tehran University, Isfahan University, Al Zahra University, Payam Noor University, the Islamic Azad University system, and other institutions cancelled their plans to take part in the ISIS conference and signed a list of boycotters. But some Iran-based scholars still planned to attend the conference. In response, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of Kayhan, called for the Ministry of Sciences, Research and Technology (which supervises all of Iran's non-medical institutions of higher learning) "to terminate the presence of [the remaining scholars planning to attend the ISIS conference] in the nation's universities and institutions of higher learning immediately and without delay." 

Following these events, many of the scholars scheduled to take part in the conference—the largest international gathering of Iranian Studies scholars in the world—chose not to attend at the last minute. The unprecedented campaign of intimidation against Iran-based scholars planning to attend the ninth biennial Iranian Studies conference is part of a larger ongoing crackdown on academic freedom in the IRI which has intensified since the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a related development, social science programs including journalism departments will be abolished in many of Iran's universities in the coming academic year.

"Restrictions on academic freedom affect all Iranians by stifling intellectual discourse not only between Iranian scholars and the international community, but domestically as well," said Gissou Nia, Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. "The infringement on the freedom of academics to participate in the conference contravenes Iran's international treaty obligations."

Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, ensures the rights of all people to take part in cultural life, which includes the right to develop international contacts and cooperation in cultural fields, including education.


For further information, please contact:

Gissou Nia
Executive Director
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
Email: GNia@iranhrdc.org

Phone: +1. 203. 772. 2218 (Ext. 215)