The 1980 Cultural Revolution and Restrictions on Academic Freedom in Iran

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Source: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Executive Summary

The closure of Iranian universities in the spring of 1980, and the subsequent expulsion of hundreds of professors and students who were deemed to be at odds with the norms and values of the Iranian Revolution, are collectively known as the “Cultural Revolution” and constitute one of the seminal events of turbulent post-revolutionary Iran.

The purported long-term goal of the Cultural Revolution was to “Islamize” Iran’s universities and cleanse them of Western influences. Some of the architects of the Cultural Revolution, however, later admitted that this effort was doomed to fail. Nevertheless, the immediate political goal of the Cultural Revolution was much more attainable: dislodging leftist political groups from universities and denying them a critical base from which they could organize their operations. To achieve this goal, Iran’s revolutionary government closed Iran’s universities for a year and half and barred the entry of thousands of students afterwards. State control over universities has continued to the present. The accounts of witnesses interviewed for this report provide examples of the Islamic Republic’s effort to maintain control over Iran’s institutions of higher education.


Mina Yazdani, now a history professor at Eastern Kentucky University, did not plan a career in humanities when she graduated from high school in 1976 in Shiraz. She wanted to become a doctor, and she gained admission to the Pahlavi University School of Medicine in Shiraz, renamed Shiraz University of Medical Sciences after the Revolution. Four years later her education was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution. A year later she learned that she would not be allowed to finish her studies because she is a Bahá’í. The Bahá’í Faith, which appeared in 19th Century Persia, is regarded as a heretical or “misguided” sect by Shiʿa clerics, and its followers have been persecuted in Iran, particularly after the 1979 Revolution. Unable to attend Iran’s state-run university system, the only option available to Yazdani was the correspondence educational programs provided by the Iranian Bahá’í community. She eventually left Iran and pursued her studies in Canada, becoming just one of thousands of Iranians whose lives were changed by the Cultural Revolution of 1980. Many were barred from higher education and had to abandon or at least delay their studies. Many others saw no choice but to leave Iran permanently and resume their studies abroad. Those who enrolled in Iran’s university system after its reopening faced an environment controlled by a revolutionary government intent on impressing its political ideology in the universities and beyond.

This report first provides an overview of the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath. Next, the report will draw on the testimony of witnesses interviewed by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) to demonstrate how the Cultural Revolution and the policies implemented in its aftermath have affected the lives of Iranian citizens. Finally, the report will explain how the Iranian government’s practices violate Iran’s international human rights obligations.

1. The Cultural Revolution of 1980

The Cultural Revolution of 1980 was the culmination of tensions that had grown at Iran’s universities during and after the upheavals of 1978-79. During this period successive demonstrations weakened the Pahlavi regime. University students were an integral part of the protests. In November 1978, for instance, the University of Tehran was closed after bloody clashes, only to be reopened on January 13, 1979, during the brief premiership of Shapour Bakhtiar.[1]

When the revolutionary government took power in February 1979, universities were among the few institutions that were not under the control of conservative clerics. While university students had played an important role in the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini and his allies did not enjoy significant ideological support on campuses. According to Sadeq Zibakalam, a political science professor at University of Tehran and an activist during the revolution, even Islamist students at universities were more influenced by Ali Shariati[2] than Khomeini.[3] Meanwhile, several secular leftist organizations were also very active on university campuses, and they used their student groups to organize activities in high schools, factories and areas populated by ethnic minorities, where Marxist political groups advocating for rights of ethnic minorities had enjoyed some support.[4]

1.1. Events in the Year Preceding the Cultural Revolution

The drive to “cleanse” Iranian universities from Western influence started immediately after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. As early as February 19, 1979, a mere eight days after the revolutionary government assumed power, the daily Kayhan reported on efforts aimed at bringing “fundamental change” to universities. The report indicated that, in certain universities, special “committees” had taken over university operations. In the National University of Iran (later renamed Shahid Beheshti University), a committee that was reportedly formed in January, even before the fall of the Pahlavi regime, had sealed university offices.[5] The report added that “Muslim students” at the National University of Iran had demanded that a list of “undesirable elements” should be created so that they could be “purged,” a term used to describe expulsion of persons deemed as counter-revolutionaries.[6]  These students also called for the formation of yet another committee comprised of workers, university staff, students, and “righteous” professors to take charge of the university.[7] On the next day, February 20, 1979, Kayhan reported that the National Organization of Iranian Academics[8] had submitted to Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan a plan to restructure Iran’s universities.[9] The plan called for formation of councils comprised of students, faculty and staff to run universities. One of the first policies called for in this plan was to purge the universities of undesirable elements.[10]  On February 21, Kayhan reported that in the Iran University of Science and Technology “it was decided” that the heads of all schools within the university, among others, should resign.[11]

Figure 1. The daily Kayhan reported of “fundamental changes” in universities as early as Feb. 19, 1979.


The Revolutionary Council, whose members were appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini and served as the legislature of the revolutionary government, named Mohammad Maleki as the new president of the University of Tehran in February 1979.[12] As Maleki recalls, Ayatollah Taleqani, a member of the Revolutionary Council, had suggested Maleki’s appointment, and Maleki accepted under the condition that a council be appointed to run the university.[13] The Revolutionary Council agreed and appointed Maleki as the head of a four-member council to run the University of Tehran. Under their instruction, each school within the University of Tehran also created a nine-member council of its own, comprised of three representatives from faculty, staff and students, respectively. This nine-member council was charged with the task of selecting a person to administer that particular school.[14]

According to Maleki, once the University of Tehran reopened after the Revolution, there were two immediate tasks before the university. One was to re-admit faculty and students who had been expelled between 1953 and 1979, referring to those who had been expelled in the era of political repression that ensued after the 1953 removal of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq. Maleki stated that about one thousand professors and students returned to the University of Tehran.[15] On the other hand, the Revolutionary Council had issued an order requiring the purging of Pahlavi regime officials from all public institutions, including universities.[16] Maleki stated that a three-member committee was charged with making decisions regarding expulsions.[17] This committee was comprised of one representative from the Ministry of Justice, one representative from faculty and one from the staff.[18] Maleki stated that about a hundred names were submitted by this committee for purging. Maleki maintained that he was not involved in the committee’s decision-making process, and that he only occasionally communicated with Mehdi Chamran[19], who was put in charge of SAVAK’s[20] records, to provide background information to the purging committee.[21] Maleki added that he did not intervene to make exceptions for purged professors such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr[22] and insisted that whatever the law was, it should be applied without exception.[23]

Concerned about the influence of leftist groups as well as professors sympathetic to the Pahlavi regime, the idea to close Iranian universities for a prolonged period was being discussed at the highest levels of the Iranian government as early as the summer of 1979. Maleki and the other administrators of the University of Tehran, who had heard about the discussions regarding the possible closure of universities, went to Qom to meet Ayatollah Khomeini in September 1979.[24] As schools in Iran typically open on the first day of autumn, Maleki wanted to ask Khomeini whether schools were to open as usual on September 23 or not.[25] When Maleki and the other three administrators reached Khomeini’s residence in Qom, they met Prime Minister Bazargan and Mostafa Katiraee, Minister of Housing and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Maleki did not know whether their presence was planned or coincidental.[26] In their meeting, Khomeini first asked Bazargan for his opinion. According to Maleki, Bazargan favored closure of universities, citing tensions between some professors and those students who considered them as sympathizers of the former regime. Bazargan also mentioned that the students’ demands could cause problems for the government.[27] Maleki, on the other hand, argued that if the universities did not open it would signal to the world that Iran’s revolutionary government was opposed to science and that only religious seminaries were allowed to operate in the country.[28] Khomeini sided with Maleki. At Maleki’s urging Khomeini issued a message to be read on September 23, 1979, as universities opened across Iran.[29] According to Maleki, those who most favored closure of universities were the members of the newly established Islamic Republic Party and their allies. Individuals allied with the Islamic Republic Party had not done well in university council elections, and they were seeking to gain power in academic institutions.[30]

1.2. Khomeini’s New Year Message

On his Iranian new year message, delivered on March 21, 1980, Khomeini specifically mentioned universities:

“A fundamental revolution should take place in universities all over Iran so that professors who are affiliated with the East[31] or West are purged and universities become healthy environments for teaching advanced Islamic sciences.”[32]

He added,

“If we had a principled approach in our universities, we would never have an academic intellectual class that during Iran’s most critical situation would be mired in internal strife, cut off from the people, and disregard what is happening to the people as if they were not living in Iran.”[33]

Attacking intellectuals, Khomeini stated that the Iranian society was hurt most by intellectuals who saw themselves as more important than ordinary people and talked in a way that only other intellectuals could understand. He also warned against fusing Islamic teachings with teachings of other schools of thought.

“Unfortunately, it is often seen that due to a lack of correct understanding of Islamic principles, they have fused these concepts with Marxist principles and have created a mixture that does not comport with progressive Islamic laws in any way.”[34]

Within a month after Khomeini’s new year message, universities across Iran were gripped by clashes between Islamists aligned with the government on one hand and leftist student groups on the other hand, marking the commencement of the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent “Islamization” of higher education.

1.3. Clashes and Closure of Universities

On April 15, 1980, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a member of the Revolutionary Council and soon-to-be speaker of the Iranian parliament, gave a speech at the University of Tabriz. According to Kayhan’s report, a number of students asked Hashemi Rafsanjani questions that he did not want to answer at that time, citing the “unsuitable atmosphere” of the university.[35] Rafsanjani promised to answer their questions when he returned to Tehran. Afterwards, two groups of students clashed with one another, breaking the doors to the university’s auditorium.[36] Following this incident, a student group named the Muslim Students Organization, along with the university employees’ Islamic Association, occupied the university’s main building.[37] Those occupying the building demanded purging of the university. On the next day, April 16, 1980, clerics and other Islamist groups held demonstrations in Tabriz, joining the call for cleansing universities from counter-revolutionary elements.[38] The University of Tabriz was effectively closed on that day. In a joint statement, the university president and the heads of the university’s schools asked those occupying the building to evacuate and instead seek redress through their representatives in a public meeting to be held on April 17.[39] The University of Tabriz president also stated, “While I agree with Islamization of the university, I cannot approve such acts. Islamization of universities should be based on a studied approach.”[40]

Mohammad Javad Bahonar, a member of the Revolutionary Council and a future Prime Minister, blamed leftist students for the disturbance at University of Tabriz, and supported the occupation of the main campus building by Islamist students.[41] He accused the leftist students of bringing “chaos, suppression and anarchism” to the university.[42]

On April 17, Islamist students at the Iran University of Science and Technology took control of campus grounds.[43] One Islamist student said, “Right now there are some who are taking a stance in opposition to the revolution, and they are against closure of universities because they lack support among the masses. They select their supporters among students. Groups such as Mojahedin[-e Khalq][44], Fedaian[45] and Peykar[46] are afraid that if universities – which in fact are governed by an American and un-Islamic system – are closed, they will lose their base of support.”[47] Meanwhile, students with Pishgam, the student group affiliated with Fedaian-e Khalq, told Kayhan that they considered closure of universities a conspiracy by American imperialism, and that reactionaries see the closure of universities as an opportunity to purge “revolutionaries.”[48]

Clashes between Islamist and leftist groups occurred at universities across Iran. On April 18, 30 people were reportedly injured at the Babolsar College of Economics and Social Sciences in Mazandaran Province.[49] Clashes and demonstrations were also reported at the University of Tehran, Tehran Polytechnic, Shiraz University, University of Kerman, and University of Mashhad.[50]

On April 18, 1980, the Revolutionary Council issued a statement, blaming political groups for turning universities into headquarters of political campaigns.[51] The statement said that the Revolutionary Council agreed with the students who had demanded fundamental change in universities. Then, it argued that fundamental restructuring of universities was not possible unless the society is unified. Adding that the government could not tolerate these centers of dissension and strife, the Revolutionary Council announced that political groups had three days to close their offices in all educational institutions.[52] The statement warned that if these offices were not closed by the end of Monday April 21, 1980, Revolutionary Council members, including President Bani-Sadr[53], would personally go to universities along with ordinary people and ensure that “centers of strife” were closed.[54] In a press conference, President Bani-Sadr repeated this ultimatum and stated that he would personally go to university campuses to shut down the offices of political groups.[55] The Revolutionary Council also announced that all universities and higher learning institutes were required to finish all exams by June 4 and close down on June 5.[56]

On April 19, 1980, the day after the Revolutionary Council issued its statement, clashes erupted at several universities. These clashes typically originated on campus grounds but spread to the areas in the vicinity. Kayhan reported that about 300 people were injured in Shiraz, and that Revolutionary Guards fired warning shots to disperse the sparring groups who were throwing rocks and wielding sticks.[57] Kayhan also reported that a 16-year-old girl named Nasrin Rostami[58] was paralyzed after being shot in the spine, and a man named Saeed Tavakoli had suffered a traumatic brain injury.[59] In Mashhad, 316 persons were treated for minor injuries in five hospitals, while another 40 people were admitted as they had sustained serious injuries.[60] Clashes were also reported at Tarbiat-e Moallem University, where at least a hundred people were reported to have been injured.[61] Jafar Shoar Raees, the president of Tarbiat-e Moallem University, stated that on the evening of April 18, individuals wielding knives and sticks had attacked the campus and vandalized the university’s library and its audio/visual laboratory.[62] He also expressed concern that students affiliated with the Islamic Association only considered themselves as Khomeini’s true followers and were taking a very harsh stance even against professors who had fought against the Pahlavi regime.[63]  On April 19, a police employee named Parviz Sattari was killed in the vicinity of Tarbiat-e Moallem University.[64] During his funeral one of his relatives blamed leftist guerrillas for his murder.[65]

On April 20 clashes broke out again in Mashhad, resulting in one fatality and injuries to 400 people.[66] The name of the person killed in clashes was Shakour Moshkinfam.[67] Twelve people were also injured in clashes in Kermanshah.[68] Serious clashes occurred on April 21, the Revolutionary Council’s deadline for evacuating universities. At the University of Tehran three people were killed while more than 300 were injured.[69] According to Maleki, government sympathizers were the only ones who had firearms during the clashes at University of Tehran.[70]

Clashes in Ahvaz on April 22 left five people dead and more than 700 injured.[71] Ahmad Jannati, Ahvaz’s Friday Prayer Imam, had called for a mass prayer at the grass field of the Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences. Following the prayer, some in the congregation marched towards the place where students had gathered. “At this location clashes broke out and the [Revolutionary] Guards intervened to restore order. Due to shots fired five people were killed and more than 700 were injured,” Kayhan reported.[72] Clashes at the University of Sistan and Baluchistan left one person dead and approximately 50 people injured, while 100 were arrested.[73]

1.4. Islamization of Academic Institutions

When the Revolutionary Council issued its statement on April 18, 1980, no information was given concerning the duration for which universities were to remain closed. As late as June 1980 this question was left unanswered, as the Deputy Minister of Education stated that universities could be closed for either five months or two years.[74] On June 13, 1980, Khomeini issued a directive establishing a task force to help devise policies to implement the Cultural Revolution. The members of the task force were Mohammad Javad Bahonar[75], Mehdi Rabbani Amlashi[76], Hassan Habibi[77], Abdolkarim Soroush[78], Shams Al-e Ahmad[79], Jalaleddin Farsi[80], and Ali Shariatmadari.[81],[82] The group, which came to be known as the Cultural Revolution Task Force, was charged with the responsibility of inviting faculty, staff and students to form a council that would plan programs of study in various academic fields.[83]

The Cultural Revolution Task Force appointed university presidents.[84] According to Abdolkarim Soroush, the Cultural Revolution Task Force did not directly make decisions regarding termination of professors. He maintained that these decisions were made at the university level and by purge committees that had been established prior to the Cultural Revolution.[85] Soroush tacitly conceded, however, that the Cultural Revolution Task Force had the power to intervene, as they had done so to reverse some purge decisions.[86] Sadeq Zibakalam recalled that he approached several Cultural Revolution Task Force members about some of the purges. Rabbani Amlashi expressed his regret but said that he would have to wait and see. Jalaleddin Farsi supported the purges and stated that the Cultural Revolution was meant to carry them out. Abdolkarim Soroush told Zibakalam that he did not approve of the purges, but he did not do anything to stop them.[87] Zibakalam said that he informed Soroush that a professor with a mathematics degree from Stanford University had been purged, and that such a person was an asset. Soroush did not have any reaction, according to Zibakalam.[88] Overall, about 700 out of 12,000 faculty members were purged, according to Soroush.[89]

With respect to Islamizing university curricula, the Cultural Revolution Task Force was less successful. Islamizing natural sciences was not very difficult; a few religious courses were added to the degree requirement, and a few credit hours on the history of natural sciences in Islam were incorporated into existing materials.[90] Islamizing social sciences was a more difficult task. The prevalent belief was that there were such things as Islamic sociology or Islamic psychology and that they had to be developed.[91] At Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi’s[92] suggestion, the Cultural Revolution Task Force approved a plan to send humanities professors to the Qom seminary, where they would present their scholarly works and receive commentary on them from clerics. This program led to the production of five textbooks on topics such as Islamic sociology and Islamic psychology.[93]  The textbooks, however, were not well received in academic circles. The idea that people outside academia who were not experts could form committees, cleanse humanities, and then inject them into universities was impractical, Soroush stated later.[94]

In July 1980 Soroush stated that the Cultural Revolution Task Force had approved a plan to merge universities in Tehran so that Tehran would only have three universities, whereas the city was home to six[95] major universities in addition to smaller colleges at that time.[96] This plan was not implemented.

Only upper level classes of medical schools would resume in the fall of 1980.[97] Universities across Iran reopened on December 18, 1982.[98] By the 1983-84 academic year, the first full academic year in which the universities were open after the Cultural Revolution, the number of lecturers and assistant lecturers had dropped to 9,042 from 16,877 in 1980.[99]

The Cultural Revolution evolved into an institution. On December 10, 1984, Khomeini issued another directive, turning the Cultural Revolution Task Force into the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.[100] In addition to the existing members, Khomeini added the heads of the three branches of the Iranian government and four others to the newly established Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.[101]

In January and February 1985, the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution passed the Regulatory Code on Moral Criteria for Selection of University Applicants.[102] One provision stated that belief in Islam or other “divine religions” was a requirement for university admission. The term “divine religions” referred to Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, which are officially recognized under the Iranian Constitution. The provision added that only the applicant’s own statements were the basis upon which his or her belief in a religion could be ascertained, and that nobody had the right to arbitrarily investigate the applicants’ belief.[103] Nevertheless, the same provision also stated that an applicant’s assertion regarding his or her religion will be accepted, unless it is proven to be false in a fair judicial proceeding.[104]

Another provision of the Regulatory Code indicated that “fighting against the Islamic Republic of Iran” was grounds for refusing admission, whether this fight was waged politically or militarily.[105] The note to this provision added that an applicant’s current status rather than his or her former activities would be the basis upon which this adjudication would rest, and that if a person had been a dissident in the past his or her admission to university would be conditioned on offering a “repentance.”[106] In a manner similar to other laws enacted by the Iranian government, the terms used in this provision are overbroad and can potentially encompass a wide variety of political activities.

The Regulatory Code also stated that individuals who have a reputation for moral deviance were barred from entry to Iranian universities. Using the same language used for political activists, such persons could gain admission if they repented.[107]

As to how the university system was to gain information on applicants’ political activities or moral character, the Regulatory Code stated that those individuals who had been accepted in the national entrance examination were to go through a background check. Five sources were to be asked to provide information on accepted applicants: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and a center dedicated to investigating the entrance examinations held in previous years.[108] The Regulatory Code added that if none of these sources provided any disqualifying information, the applicant could enroll, unless disqualifying information was received from a “reliable” source.[109] If disqualifying information was received about an applicant, he or she would be referred to the gozinesh[110] committee, where the decision would be made whether to grant or deny admission.[111]

The mandate of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution expanded beyond setting education policy. In 1991, for instance, it issued a secret memorandum outlining the policies of the Iranian government with respect to Iran’s Bahá’í community.[112] This document, which was approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei, explicitly stated that the government should block the Bahá’ís development and progress. One of the means used to achieve this goal was to bar Bahá’ís from institutions of higher learning. Until 2004 this policy was implemented through the university entrance examination’s registration form. This form asked all applicants to declare their religious faith. Only four responses were acceptable: Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Bahá’í students were thus barred to sit for the entrance examination unless they lied about their religious beliefs. In 2004 this question was removed from the registration form; nevertheless, the situation of Bahá’ís has not changed. Although they can sit for the entrance examination, in most cases they are told that their files are “incomplete”, and they are not allowed to enroll. Those who are allowed to enroll are mostly expelled before they can graduate.[113]

Another example of the expansion of the mandate of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution was a 1992 directive regarding the Iranian government’s policies on women’s employment.[114] This directive emphasized the traditional role of women in families, and proclaimed certain professions such as midwifery, teaching and “certain medical fields” as particularly suitable for women. On the other hand, it stated that some professions, such as judgeship and firefighting as unsuitable for women.[115]

2. Witness Accounts

Almost four decades after the Cultural Revolution of 1980, the Iranian government’s control over institutions of higher education has continued. As the testimony of witnesses interviewed by IHRDC shows, both students and professors can be subject to disciplinary action, including expulsion, for expressing their political views. Members of the Bahá’í Faith are also systematically deprived of the right to higher education. The Cultural Revolution, therefore, was the first phase of long-term discriminatory policies. In this section a number of witnesses interviewed by IHRDC discuss their experiences during the Cultural Revolution and later years. These accounts depict how the Iranian government controls institutions of higher learning, using both intimidation and legal action to suppress academic freedom.

 2.1. Mehrak Kamali

Mehrak Kamali is a senior lecturer and Persian language program coordinator at the Ohio State University. Kamali was born in 1965 in Shiraz. Kamali was affiliated with Fedaian-e Khalq, a leftist opposition group, and though he was only 14-years-old at the time, participated in protests against the closure of universities during the Cultural Revolution. In his interview with IHRDC Kamali recalled the clashes between Islamist pro-regime forces and leftist students that took place in 1980 in the vicinity of Shiraz University:

“[Men in plainclothes] were turning us back by throwing stones at us. I remember that I was running when one of us fell down and the rest of us fell on the ground as well. Then something hit me [in the head] on the back of my ear.  It was on a dangerous place, near my temple. I was unconscious…I returned to consciousness when they were stitching my head at the hospital.”[116]

Being a witness to the origins of the Cultural Revolution, Kamali came to experience its impact personally. Kamali took the university entrance exam in 1988 in the mathematics field. He was, however, rejected during the gozinesh process.[117] He recalls receiving a letter stating that he could appeal the gozinesh decision by a certain date. Kamali was not a Bahá’í but he came from a Bahá’í family, and he knew that the real purpose of the appeal process was to force him to recant and disassociate himself from the Bahá’í Faith.[118] Therefore, he did not appeal the gozinesh decision. Although he was affiliated with Fedaian-e Khalq in his earlier years, Kamali believed that his rejection in the gozinesh process was due to his family members being Bahá’ís.[119]

The gozinesh process was gradually eased in subsequent years, at least for undergraduate students. Kamali took the university entrance exam again in 1996, and he was accepted at the University of Tehran’s sociology program.[120] He completed his undergraduate studies, finishing first in his class. In 2000, when he wanted to apply for a master’s degree program, he again had to go through the gozinesh process as the Iranian government still implemented it for graduate programs.[121]  Kamali went to the gozinesh interview, which took place at a building near Tehran’s Haft-e Tir Square.[122] The interview took less than half an hour. The person interviewing Kamali asked him to provide written answers to the questions and to sign his name below each question.[123] Then Kamali was told that he had to publicly announce in a newspaper that he was not a Bahá’í. Kamali responded that he was not a Bahá’í, but that he was not going to publish an announcement in the newspaper.[124] Instead, he said that he would collect signed affidavits from his family members indicating that he was not a Bahá’í. The gozinesh officers agreed.  Kamali obtained signed affidavits from two paternal uncles, both of whom were Muslim university professors.[125] After submitting these affidavits Kamali was allowed to enroll and he graduated two and a half years later.

2.2. Abbas Khosravi Farsani

Abbas Khosravi Farsani was born in March 1979 in Farsan, Chaharmahal Va Bakhtiari Province. Farsani came from a religious background. In 1998 he enrolled in Imam Sadiq University[126], where he studied divinity.[127]  After obtaining a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Imam Sadiq University, Farsani enrolled in University of Isfahan to pursue a doctorate in Western philosophy.[128] While studying towards his Ph.D., Farsani was also teaching philosophy at Payame Noor University in his hometown of Farsan.

2.2.1. Arrest and Detention

Farsani’s religious views had gradually changed. During the period in which he was a student at Imam Sadiq University, Farsani had started publishing blog posts critical of Islam and the Iranian government under an alias. He had also published an online book under the name Azad Azadeh.[129] Farsani had criticized the Islamic Republic and its leaders in his book. Despite the measures he had taken to remain anonymous, the authorities identified Farsani. Agents of Iran’s Cyber Police arrested him at his home in Isfahan on June 21, 2012.[130] Two plainclothes agents entered Farsani’s home, while two to four soldiers waited outside.[131] The agents had printouts of Farsani’s blog posts with them when they entered his residence, and they took Farsani’s laptop. The agents, who had come to Farsani’s home with two cars, handcuffed Farsani and took him to Isfahan Cyber Police.[132] Colonel Khosravi, who headed the Isfahan Cyber Police, was among those who interrogated Farsani.[133]

On the next day, which was a Friday – the weekend holiday in Iran – he  was taken to court and was questioned again by the night-shift judge.[134] The judge asked him about his motives for writing his book and blog posts.[135] After two days in police custody, Farsani was transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence (MOI) detention facility, where he was interrogated again. Farsani stated that he was blindfolded during interrogations.[136] In particular, what Farsani had written about corruption of Larijani brothers[137] was of interest to the interrogators.[138] The interrogators also asked about Farsani’s contacts and individuals he knew. Another topic discussed during the interrogations was the 1988 massacre of political prisoners as Farsani had written about it in his posts.[139]

While detained at the MOI detention facility Farsani was informed of the charges against him, which were dissemination of “illegal content,”[140] inciting the public against the government, and insulting public officials.[141]

The interrogators asked Farsani about ties with MI6 and Mossad.[142] Farsani responded that he was not affiliated with any country or group inside or outside Iran, and that he only wrote his blogs out of his sense of personal responsibility. One interrogator told Farsani that they could prevent him from graduating.[143] He also added that they could revoke Farsani’s scholarship and stop him from teaching at Payame Noor University and other educational institutions in the country. Then, in the course of interrogations, Farsani was told that he would be allowed to graduate on the condition that he abandoned the topic of his thesis. Farsani’s thesis was on Philosophy of Ethics and J. L. Mackie’s moral error theory.[144] Instead, he was supposed to write his thesis on velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, which is the idea behind the Islamic Republic’s formation. Farsani responded that he was not interested in writing about velayat-e faqih as it did not have anything to do with philosophy.[145] The interrogators also told Farsani that after leaving his teaching position, he can teach at a university that they choose, provided that he cooperated with them.[146] On some occasions interrogation sessions took as long as eight hours, and they did not follow a clear schedule as they could start at any time. Farsani was not provided access to counsel during his detention.[147]

Farsani was allowed to have a brief visit from his family members in the second week after his arrest. Farsani went to the prosecutor’s office for three hearings. At the third hearing his bail was set at 70 million toumans.[148] He was released the next day after 20 days of detention.[149]

Figure 2. Abbas Khosravi Farsani was expelled from University of Isfahan and Payame Noor University after being arrested for writing blog posts and an online book critical of the Islamic Republic.
Figure 2. Abbas Khosravi Farsani was expelled from University of Isfahan and Payame Noor University after being arrested for writing blog posts and an online book critical of the Islamic Republic.

2.2.2. Expulsions and Additional Charge

After his release Farsani realized that he had been expelled from the University of Isfahan, and that his scholarship had been rescinded. He also learned that he had been fired from his teaching position at Payame Noor University.[150] Farsani sought to reverse these decisions by following them up through his contacts within the Iranian government. Then, Farsani received a court summons that surprised him. In addition to the three charges mentioned earlier, the court summons included a fourth charge: membership in opposition groups affiliated with Zionists.[151] In his interview with IHRDC Farsani indicated that the lawyers with whom he discussed his case told him that this last charge was most probably added to the previous charges in order to scare attorneys and other influential individuals who might have been inclined to help him.[152] In fact, members of parliament from Chaharmahal Va Bakhtiari Province later told Farsani that they could not approach his case because supporting him might have made them vulnerable to the same charge.[153] In addition, the lawyers told Farsani that he might receive a sentence as long as 15 years or possibly even the death penalty, and that his case was unpredictable as it was now before the Revolutionary Court.[154]

2.2.3. Leaving Iran

Farsani stated that he was also threatened by his own family members who were in the intelligence apparatus. Farsani was taken to a park by a family member and told that if he did not cooperate with the authorities, he could face consequences, but if he did cooperate, he would be rewarded.[155]

Given the uncertainty of his situation and the possibility of receiving a very harsh sentence, Farsani decided to leave Iran.  As he had been barred from leaving the country, Farsani had to cross the border illegally. In October 2012, just three months after his arrest, he crossed the border into Turkey.[156] Farsani was admitted to the United States as a refugee in 2015.[157]

2.2.4. Restrictions in the Academic Environment

In his interview with IHRDC Farsani described the academic environment at Imam Sadiq University. Unlike other Iranian universities, Imam Sadiq University does not have a herasat office, the intelligence and security office found in Iranian university and government organizations and which is responsible for overseeing the university or organization’s security and monitoring it for any subversive acts or any conduct in violation of Iran’s strict Islamic code.

Instead, it has a council that oversees enforcement of university codes.[158] A person from this council named Zare’shahi spoke with Farsani and warned him about his political statements. He also told Farsani that his practice of shaving his beard went against the university’s culture.[159] Zare’shahi told Farsani that Imam Sadiq University was established for the purpose of training individuals to serve in the government, and that Farsani was challenging the Islamic Republic itself. Despite these conversations, Farsani was a respected student at Imam Sadiq University. One of Farsani’s professors invited him to join a project on writing a 40-volume book on history of philosophy. Mohammad Khamenei, the brother of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, was also involved in this project. Farsani accepted and started working with group.[160] While working on this project, Farsani was invited to participate in a meeting with a representative from the Supreme Leader’s office. At that point Farsani felt that the project was becoming a political rather than an academic endeavor and decided to resign after four to five months on the job.[161]

Farsani experienced monitoring of academic spaces at University of Isfahan too. One of his courses was on Plato’s political philosophy. As a doctorate level course, there were only a few students in this class. At one point the person running the office of the philosophy department started to attend this class.[162] His explanation was that he was interested in political philosophy. After a few sessions, this person called Farsani into his office and closed the door.[163] He said that he had heard from others that Farsani was making controversial statements, and that he had wanted to see for himself. He told Farsani that although he might consider University of Isfahan to have an open environment, he should be careful about what he says.[164] Farsani stated that he tried to keep his political conversations in smaller and more private circles to avoid trouble.

2.3. Mina Yazdani

Mina Yazdani, born in 1958 in Shiraz, is a history professor at the Eastern Kentucky University. In an interview with IHRDC Yazdani described how she was expelled from medical school following the Cultural Revolution. Yazdani had wanted to become a physician since high school. She graduated from high school in 1976 and took the university entrance examination. She was ranked 25th out of 182,030 applicants.[165] Yazdani was admitted to Pahlavi University (renamed Shiraz University after the Revolution) School of Medicine. “The day I was admitted was perhaps the happiest day of my life,” said Yazdani.[166]

Figure 3. Mina Yazdani’s national university entrance examination score sheet
Figure 3. Mina Yazdani’s national university entrance examination score sheet

2.3.1. Cultural Revolution at Shiraz University

Yazdani was in the third year of medical school when the Revolution took place. University campuses were hit by strikes for months in the course of 1978-1979. The new regime took power on February 11, 1979. Yazdani recalls that her classes, which were suspended due to the Revolution, resumed on March 7, 1979.[167] Yazdani was able to finish her third year. The fourth year (1979-1980) was devoted to physiology. The last module of the physiology course was titled neuroscience because it included both the physiology and the anatomy of the nervous system, which had been left out the previous year in the intensive (shortened) anatomy course.[168]

In the spring of 1980, towards the end of the fourth academic year, Yazdani and her classmates were supposed to complete the anatomy course, the only one that had been left unfinished from the previous year due to the Revolution. In May 1980, however, Yazdani recalls that Islamist students started talking about the impending closure of universities. They would encourage the students not to attend classes. Yazdani remembers that one day two Islamist hardliners blocked the door to a classroom and prevented students’ entry.[169] On another day, Islamist students started walking on desks in the classroom to disrupt and ultimately cancel the class. Yazdani states that with the exception of Islamist students, most others did not want their studies interrupted.[170] Eventually, however, the university was closed. According to Yazdani, neuroscience was the only module left unfinished that year. After the Cultural Revolution, Yazdani continued her studies independently. She would work with various physicians and accompany them as they went on their rounds in hospitals.[171]

Shiraz University School of Medicine was reopened in the fall of 1981. According to Yazdani, a bulletin was posted on an announcement board in Saʿdi Hospital. The bulletin stated that universities would reopen, but those students affiliated with certain groups were not permitted to return. She does not remember the first group listed in the announcement, but the second group was described as “those belonging to misguided sects whose exit from Islam is confirmed by the consensus of Muslims.”[172] The term “consensus of Muslims” was not familiar to Yazdani, but the term “misguided sects”, a derogatory reference to Bahá’ís, was one that she understood very well.[173] “I cried throughout the night,” Yazdani said.

2.3.2. Expulsion

A report in daily Kayhan on November 24, 1981, announced that 43 students were expelled from Shiraz University School of Medicine for membership in the “misguided Bahá’í sect,” being affiliated with “hypocrites,” a reference to the Mojahedin-e Khalq, and “moral corruption.”
Figure 4. A report in daily Kayhan on November 24, 1981, announced that 43 students were expelled from Shiraz University School of Medicine for membership in the “misguided Bahá’í sect,” being affiliated with “hypocrites,” a reference to the Mojahedin-e Khalq, and “moral corruption.”

Registration for fall 1981 classes was held on October 31 and classes started on November 1. When Yazdani and another Bahá’í student attempted to register, they were told that their names were not on the list of admitted students. When they asked for a reason, the young man in charge of the registration told them that they should go to another office to ask that question. On the next day Yazdani and the other Bahá’í student went to that office. Then they were told that the reason that their names were not on the list of admitted students was that they belonged to a “misguided sect.”[174]

According to a newspaper report from 1981, there were 121 students in Yazdani’s class. Of those, 43 were initially denied re-admission.[175] Yazdani recalls that about 30 were gradually allowed back. Some, according to Yazdani, submitted written pledges not to engage in political activity.[176] Of the remaining ten, two were Bahá’ís and eight were allegedly members or sympathizers of opposition groups.[177] Yazdani does not know whether any of the eight were ever re-admitted or not. Yazdani was given the option to write a letter and appeal the decision to expel her. In her letter she explained her beliefs and contested the characterization of the Bahá’í Faith as a misguided sect. Some time after that, Yazdani received an official notice in the mail. The notice was an orange form and had several options as explanation for expulsion. In Yazdani’s form the option that stated that she had insisted on her beliefs was marked. In other words, the reason for her expulsion was that she had not recanted. The notice did not make a direct reference to Bahá’í Faith.[178] Nevertheless, a bulletin posted on various announcement boards on the medical campus that listed the names of the ten expelled students explicitly stated that Yazdani and the other Bahá’í student were expelled for being members of the “misguided Bahá’í sect.”[179]

Yazdani met with the new head of the medical school to discuss her situation. He told Yazdani that the expulsion of Bahá’ís was a policy decision of the Iranian government and that it was not possible for him to overrule it.[180] Three or four years later Yazdani again went to the medical school and requested a meeting with its president. She recalls that when she entered there were two men in addition to the medical school president.[181] She told the medical school president that she had loved studying medicine, and that she wanted him to know what had happened to her. One of the other two men in the room told Yazdani that the way in which she openly discussed being a Bahá’í could lead to her arrest and execution.[182]

In the 1980s the Iranian Bahá’í community made several arrangements for the education of its youth. One of the measures was a correspondence study program with Indiana University. Yazdani enrolled in this program and studied social and behavioral sciences. Concurrently, she also enrolled in a program of Bahá’í religious studies run by the Bahá’í community.[183] She graduated from both programs. In 2004 she gained admission to Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada for a master’s program in religious and cultural studies. After graduation she was admitted to Toronto University’s Middle Eastern and Islamic studies program with full funding from the University of Toronto.[184] Yazdani obtained her Ph.D. in 2011. She is currently a history professor at Eastern Kentucky University.

2.4. Shiva Pajouheshfard

Shiva Pajouheshfard was an instructor at the School of Communication in the Islamic Azad University, Central Tehran Branch. In an interview with IHRDC, she discussed restrictions on academic freedom she had experienced while teaching. In 2009, thirty years after the Islamic Revolution, Dr. Pajouheshfard was teaching a course called “A Discussion on Iran’s Contemporary History.” During the course, she instructed her students to compare cultural, social, political, and economical data from 1949 with 1979, and then again with 2009, in order to obtain an understanding of what had transpired in Iran during that sixty-year period.[185] She also told her students to compare the data with those of countries such as South Korea and Singapore. This assignment caused trouble for Dr. Pajouheshfard as it was perceived as an attempt to compare Supreme Leader Khamenei with the Shah.[186] In these situations the herasat office typically sends letters to the head of that particular department.[187] After receiving one such letter, the dean of the School of Communication warned Dr. Pajouheshfard that she should be cautious, but the matter did not end with a warning. Dr. Pajouheshfard was banned from teaching journalism courses and was limited to teaching electives for a period.[188] Another incident that resulted in a letter from herasat was when Dr. Pajouheshfard failed a relative of President Ahmadinejad. The student, who was the daughter-in-law of President Ahmadinejad’s sister, had been absent for prolonged periods due to going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Dr. Pajouheshfard had remarked to the student that being absent for two months in order to go to the hajj was bound to affect her academic standing.[189] Dr. Pajouheshfard’s statement was seen as an insult to sacred Islamic beliefs, and yet another letter from herasat went into her file.[190]

Another incident involving Dr. Pajouheshfard was when Saham-al-din Bourghani, a political prisoner and a student of Dr. Pajouheshfard, needed to present his dissertation. Dr. Pajouheshfard was instrumental in the dissertation presentation taking place. Dr. Pajouheshfard made a comment to another student of hers, who was also presenting his dissertation, saying that Bourghani would have been there to present his dissertation ahead of him if he had not been imprisoned. This student was the son of the Supreme Leader’s representative to the judiciary. Dr. Pajouheshfard had made this comment hoping that the student’s father would intervene on Bourghani’s behalf, and that was what, in fact, happened. Bourghani was brought to the university to defend his thesis; however, he was handcuffed and accompanied by two agents.[191] During the presentation session, Dr. Pajouheshfard told Bourghani that he would get a higher score if he could write an article to supplement his thesis. Bourghani responded that he did not have access to any material in prison. Pajouheshfard told him that he could ask his wife to bring him books, but Bourghani said that he was not allowed to call his wife.[192] To solve this problem, another instructor present at the dissertation presentation asked Bourghani what his wife’s number was, and called her right then. He then gave the phone to Bourghani so that he could speak with his wife. Bourghani was able to speak with his wife for half an hour and told her what books he needed. Once Bourghani’s defense was finished he was escorted back to prison. One of the agents accompanying Bourghani, however, stayed back with the professors to let them know that their actions were illegal, and that they would be facing consequences.[193]

Dr. Pajouheshfard had a flight to the United States four days after this incident. When she reached the U.S., her colleagues told her that it would be better for her to stay away from Iran as the agent had filed a complaint against her. They informed Dr. Pajouheshfard that her safety might be in jeopardy, and that the possibility of a future career in the same field was nonexistent for her. As a result, Dr. Pajouheshfard has since been living in the U.S.[194]

3. Violations of Iran’s International Human Rights Obligations

As a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Iranian government is violating many of its obligations under international human rights law with respect to the rights of students and faculty in Iran’s universities. This section provides an overview of some of these violations.

3.1. Right to Education

Article 13.1 of the ICESCR declares,

“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”[195]

General Comment No. 13 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that the prohibition against discrimination “applies fully and immediately to all aspects of education and encompasses all internationally prohibited grounds of discrimination.”[196] Article 2.2 of the ICESCR prohibits “discrimination of any kind as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”[197]

With respect to the right to education, the Iranian government discriminates on the basis of religion, gender and political belief. Members of the Bahá’í Faith are deprived of the right to higher education as a matter of state policy. Women are barred from certain educational programs such as oil drilling.[198] Discrimination on the basis of political opinion is also prevalent, although not in a manner as systematic as during the Cultural Revolution. Abbas Khosravi Farsani, who was interviewed by IHRDC, was specifically expelled from the University of Isfahan for his political and ideological beliefs. In fact, the authorities told him that he could finish his studies if he changed the topic of his dissertation. Hossein Torkashvand, another witness interviewed by IHRDC, was pursuing his master’s degree in sociology at the University of Tehran. He was expelled in 2010 because of his political activism, although he had finished all required courses and was drafting his thesis.[199] When he sought to reverse this decision, officials at the Ministry of Sciences told him that his expulsion was ordered by the Ministry of Intelligence.[200]

3.2. Freedom of Association

Article 22 of the ICCPR states,

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.[201]

The Cultural Revolution was, in effect, an assault on freedom of association. As the statements of government officials at the time show, the drive to close universities was in part due to the desire to halt the political activities of leftist student organizations on campus. The Revolutionary Council statement of April 18, 1980 explicitly demanded the closure of student group offices. This action was not based on national security or public safety concerns as required under Article 22.2. of the ICCPR. Instead, it was driven by a desire to stifle dissent on university campuses. In addition, while Islamist student groups had occupied university building in Tabriz and elsewhere, the government’s action was directed at leftists. Moreover, the government’s sweeping action targeted universities across Iran, even in places that no clashes were reported. Prolonged closure of universities was an overbroad and unnecessary measure, and it failed to meet the requirements of Article 22.2. for an acceptable restriction on freedom of association.

3.3. Freedom of Expression

Article 19.2 of the ICCPR declares,

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.[202]

In General Comment No. 34 the Human Rights Committee explained the legitimate limitations a government could impose on freedom of expression. The Human Rights Committee stated,

“When a State party invokes a legitimate ground for restriction of freedom of expression, it must demonstrate in specific and individualized fashion the precise nature of the threat, and the necessity and proportionality of the specific action taken, in particular by establishing a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the threat.”[203]

The Iranian government expelled hundreds of professors during what it referred to as purges. It also expelled or barred the admission of hundreds of students into Iranian universities. These actions were solely based on the real or perceived political or religious views of those adversely affected. These individuals were not convicted of any crime, nor were they afforded a fair hearing to contest the allegations based on which they had been deprived of their rights.


The policies implemented during and subsequent to the Cultural Revolution changed the lives of thousands of students and academics. As the testimony of witnesses interviewed for this report demonstrates, the Iranian government closely monitors Iranian universities and takes action against students and professors whom they see as threats.

The “Islamization” championed by proponents of the Cultural Revolution, however, never materialized, as even those who were charged with this task realized that it was impossible to substitute scientific findings with religious doctrine. Nevertheless, the legacy of the Cultural Revolution persists through the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution and institutionalized human rights abuses committed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with Iranian government’s political and ideological agenda.



IHRDC gathered and analyzed information for this report from the following sources:

Testimony of victims and witnesses. IHRDC interviewed several witnesses who have been victims of restrictions on academic freedom. The individuals interviewed for this report have experienced human rights violations across four decades, demonstrating how restrictions on academic freedom have persisted since the inception of the Islamic Republic.

Government Documents. This report cites several laws and regulations enacted by the Iranian government on academic freedom.

Reports by non-governmental organizations. Reports from the Bahá’í International Community have been cited to provide details about denial of education to Bahá’ís.

Media reporting. Various Iranian media sources, as well as non-Iranian media sources, have been used to provide details and context for this report. Where the report cites or relies on information provided by government actors or other involved parties, it specifies the source of such information and evaluates the information in light of the relative reliability of each source. The IHRDC has meticulously cross-checked all the sources of information used to compile this report to ensure their credibility and accuracy.

Citations originally written in the Persian language have been transliterated using the system of the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (IJMES), available at .


[1] Shapour Bakhtiar, a member of the National Front of Iran, was appointed Prime Minister by Mohammad Reza Shah on January 4, 1979 as a last bid to placate protesters and save the constitutional monarchy. This attempt failed and Bakhtiar’s government fell on February 11, 1979. Bakhtiar fled to France and emerged as an opposition leader against the Islamic Republic. He was assassinated by Iranian government agents in 1991. Taṣvīri Inqilāb: Bāzgushāyīi Dānishgāhi Tihrān [Image of the Revolution: Reopening of the University of Tehran], BBC Persian (February 2, 2019),

[2] Ali Shariati, a sociologist and an Islamist author, promoted Shiʿa Islam as a force for justice and criticized both traditional clerics and the Pahlavi regime. Seen as advocating a new brand of Islamic thought, Shariati gained popularity, particularly among students. He died in the UK in 1977.

[3] Rasman Va ʿAlanan Ḥalāliyyat Miṭalabam [I ask for forgiveness officially and publicly],, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).

[4] Id.

[5] Taghīrāti Bunyādi Dar Dānishgāhhā [Fundamental Changes in Universities], Kayhan, Feb. 19, 1979, at 3.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] The National Organization of Iranian Academics, formally established on October 4, 1978, was an association comprised of Iranian academics. Formed in the midst of revolutionary upheaval, the organization advocated for both academic and political reform during this period. See Nāṣir Pākdāman, Sāzmāni Millīyi Dānishgāhīani ʾĪrān Dar ʾInqilābi ʾĪrān [The National Organization of Iranian Academics in the Iranian Revolution] (2019), available at

[9] Ṫarḥi Bāzsāzīi Niẓāmi Dānishgāhī Taslīmi Nukhust Vazīr Shud [Plan to Restructure University System Submitted to the Prime Minister], Kayhan, Feb. 20, 1979 at 8.

[10] Id.

[11] Taṣfīiyi ʾAsāsī Dar Dānishgāhhā Āghāz Shud [Major Purges at Universities Initiated], Kayhan, Feb. 21, 1979 at 2.

[12] Kasī Az Mā Naẓar Nakhāst [Nobody Asked for Our Opinion],, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Law of Aug. 29, 1979 (On Purges and Creation of an Appropriate Environment for Growth of Revolutionary Institutions in Ministries, Universities, Banks and State Institutions and Companies), available at

[17] Duktur Naṣr Bāyad ʾIkhrāj Mīshud,, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).  

[18] Id.

[19] Mehdi Chamran is a conservative politician, and he was elected to the Tehran City Council later in his career. He is the brother of Mostafa Chamran, the Islamic Republic’s first defense minister and a member of the parliament. Mostafa Chamran was killed in the war front during the Iran-Iraq war.

[20] Formed in 1957, the Pahlavi regime’s secret police, known as the National Intelligence and Security Organization (SAVAK), monitored, arrested and tortured dissidents.

[21] Duktur Naṣr Bāyad ʾIkhrāj Mīshud,, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).  

[22] Seyed Hossein Nasr, currently a professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University, is a prominent author and scholar of Islamic, Religious and Comparative Studies. He obtained his Ph.D. from Harvard University at the age of twenty-five. He has taught at several universities in the US and Iran, including the University of Tehran.

[23] Duktur Naṣr Bāyad ʾIkhrāj Mīshud,, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).  

[24] Kasī Az Mā Naẓar Nakhāst [Nobody Asked for Our Opinion],, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] In this context the term “East” refers to the communist bloc.

[32] Payām Bih Millati ʾĪrān, Bih Munāsibati Sāli Nu (Tuṣīihāyi Sīzdahgānih Bih Musalmānān [Message to the Iranian Nation on the Occasion of the New Year (Thirteen Pieces of Advice to Muslims)],, (last viewed Dec. 11, 2019).

[33] Id.


[35]  Dānishgāhi Tabrīz Nīmi Taʿṭil Shud [University of Tabriz Partially Closed], Kayhan, April 17, 1980 at 1.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Duktur Bāhunar: Dar Muridi Taghyīri Niẓāmi Dānishgāhhā Du Naẓar Vujūd Dārad, Kayhan, April 17, 1980 at 2.

[42] Id.

[43] Guzārishi Kiyhān ʾAz Ḥavādisi ʾImrūzi Dānishgāhi ʿIlm Va Ṣanʿat, Kayhan, April 17, 1980 at 2.

[44] Mojahedin-e Khalq are a leftist-Islamist political group formed in 1960s. The group, which engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Pahlavi monarchy, supported Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Thereafter, however, tensions grew between the newly formed government and the MEK. In 1981, MEK members staged a demonstration after President Bani-Sadr was impeached by the Iranian parliament. Scores of MEK members and sympathizers were arrested, and many were executed. The MEK declared that it would start an armed struggle against the Islamic Republic, and it carried out several bombings and assassinations. The group’s leadership moved to Iraq in mid-1980s and received support from the government of Saddam Hussein. The MEK launched a failed military campaign aimed at toppling the Iranian government in the summer of 1988. After turning back the offensive, the Iranian government retried MEK political prisoners in secret tribunals and executed thousands of MEK political prisoners along with other leftist prisoners. The executed prisoners had already been tried and sentenced before, and their execution remains the Iranian government’s most severe human rights violation.

[45] The Fedaian-e Khalq Guerilla Organization was established in 1971 when two underground communist groups merged. Guerrilla warfare, “armed propaganda” for the revolution, and rejection of the Tudeh Party, the main communist party in Iran, were among the tenets of the organization. The approach of the organization shifted after some of the leaders of the group were killed in the summer of 1976 in a clash with the security forces, and the new leadership encouraged cooperation with other socialist groups. Although its membership had dwindled, the organization experienced a surge in the number of its supporters during the Iranian Revolution. In June 1980 the organization split into majority and minority wings over cooperation with the new government, with the majority wing supporting the Islamic Republic as anti-imperialistic, while the minority wing opposed it. Many Fedaian-e Khalq members were arrested and executed in post-revolutionary Iran. For further information on Fedaian-e Khalq Guerrilla Organization and other leftist groups in Iran see Torāb Ḥaqšenās, Communism in Persia after 1953, Encyclopædia Iranica (Oct. 27, 2011),

[46] Peykar was a leftist organization that emerged as a result of dispute among Islamists and Marxists wings of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Marxists who separated from the MEK reorganized under Peykar. In contrast to other leftist organizations, Peykar opposed the Islamic Republic as soon as its establishment. Many Peykar members were arrested or executed. For further information on Peykar and other leftist groups in Iran see Torāb Ḥaqšenās, Communism in Persia after 1953, Encyclopædia Iranica (Oct. 27, 2011),

[47] Guzārishi Kiyhān ʾAz Ḥavādisi ʾImrūzi Dānishgāhi ʿIlm Va Ṣanʿat, Kayhan, April 17, 1980 at 2.

[48] Id.

[49] Dar Dargīrīhāyi Dānishkadihyi Bābulsar 30 Nafar Zakhmī Shudand,  Kayhan, April 19, 1980 at 2.

[50] Chand Dānishgāhi Dīgar Bitaṣarrufi ʾAnjumanhāyi ʾIslāmī Dar Āmad, Kayhan,, April 19, 1980 at 3.

[51] Sitādi ʾAḥzāb Va Gurūhhā Dar Dānishgāh Ẓarfi 3 Rūz Bāyad Barchīdih Shavand, Kayhan, April 19, 1980 at 3.

[52] Id.

[53] Abolahassan Bani-Sadr, a revolutionary activist residing in France, returned to Iran on February 1, 1979 alongside Ayatollah Khomeini. A member of the Revolutionary Council, he was elected President in Iran’s first presidential election held on January 25, 1980. He gradually lost support among the clerical establishment, however, and he was ousted by the Iranian parliament in June 1981. He subsequently fled Iran to France and became an opposition figure.

[54] Sitādi ʾAḥzāb Va Gurūhhā Dar Dānishgāh Ẓarfi 3 Rūz Bāyad Barchīdih Shavand, Kayhan, April 19, 1980 at 3.

[55] Baniṣadr: Dānishgāh Jāyi Tabdīl Shudan Bih Sitād Nīst,  Kayhan, April 19, 1980 at 3.

[56] Sitādi ʾAḥzāb Va Gurūhhā Dar Dānishgāh Ẓarfi 3 Rūz Bāyad Barchīdih Shavand, Kayhan, April 19, 1980 at 3.

[57] ʿIddihyi Zīādī Dar Taṣarrufi Dānishgāhhāyi Shīrāz Va Mashhad Majrūh Shudand, Kayhan, April 20, 1980 at 1.

[58] According to Mehrak Kamali, a witness interviewed for this report, Nasrin Rostami died of her injuries.

[59] ʿIddihyi Zīādī Dar Taṣarrufi Dānishgāhhāyi Shīrāz Va Mashhad Majrūh Shudand, Kayhan, April 20, 1980 at 1.

[60] Id.

[61] Guzārishhāyi Kiyhān ʾAz Vaqāyiʿi Dānishgāhhā Va Madārisi ʿĀlī, Kayhan, April 20, 1980 at 3.

[62] Id.

[63] Id.

[64] Huvīyati Maqtūli Dargīrīhāyi Dānishgāh Rushan Shud, Kayhan, April 21, 1980 at 3.

[65] Jināzihyi Shahīdi Dānishgāh Bikhāk Sipurdih Shud, Kayhan, April 22, 1980 at 1.

[66] Vaqāyiʿi Dānishgāhi Mashhad 400 Majrūh Va Yik Kushtih Dād, Kayhan, April 21, 1980 at 1.

[67] Id.

[68] Id.

[69]  Bīshtari Shahrhāyi Dānishgāhī Dīrūz Ṣaḥnihyi Barkhurdhāyi Khūnīn Būd, Kayhan, April 22, 1980 at 3.

[70] Kasī Az Mā Naẓar Nakhāst [Nobody Asked for Our Opinion],, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).

[71] Zadu Khurdhāyi Dānishgāhi ʾAhvāz 5 Kushtih Va Dahhā Majrūh Dād,  Kayhan, April 23, 1980 at 1.

[72] Id.

[73] Dar Barkhurdhāyi Dānishgāhi Sīstān Va Balūchistān Yiknafar Kushtih Va 50 Tan Zakhmī Shudand, Kayhan, April 23, 1980 at 1.

[74] Stuart Auerbach, All Schools in Iran Revamped to Stress Islamic Revolution, Washington Post (June 14, 1980),

[75] Mohamad Javad Bahonar was a revolutionary cleric. He served as Minister of Education and later as Prime Minister in President Rajaei’s administration. Bahonar was killed in a bombing attributed to the MEK on August 30, 1981.

[76] Mehdi Rabbani Amlashi was a revolutionary cleric who was imprisoned several times during the Pahlavi Regime. After the Revolution he held many governmental posts, including membership in the parliament as well as the Guardian Council.

[77] Hassan Habibi was a long-surviving politician in the Islamic Republic. He ran for president unsuccessfully in the first presidential election. Later he served as Vice President for both President Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Khatami, and he was also appointed to the Expediency Council, in which he served until his death in 2013.

[78] Abdolkarim Soroush is a scholar of Islamic Studies and philosophy, and he has taught at universities in both Iran and the United States, including Harvard, Princeton, and Georgetown. His involvement in the Cultural Revolution Task Force is the most controversial and politically charged episode in his career.

[79] Shams Al-e Ahmad was an author. He died in 2010.

[80] Jalaleddin Farsi was an Islamist author and political activist. He was a candidate in the first presidential election in Iran but had to withdraw due to possessing Afghan nationality in addition to Iranian nationality. He was elected to the parliament in 1984. In the 1990s, however, Farsi was convicted of murder during a hunting excursion, but was sentenced to paying diya instead of the death penalty.

[81] Ali Shariatmadari was Minister of Culture and Higher Education in Prime Minister Bazargan’s Provisional Government.

[82] Tashkīli Sitādi ʾInqilābi Farhangī Bih Farmani ʾImām,,سرویس_های_اطلاع_رسانی/فرهنگ/تشکیل_ستاد_انقلاب_فرهنگی_به_فرمان_امام (last visited Dec. 13, 2019).

[83] Id.

[84] Rasman Va ʿAlanan Ḥalāliyyat Miṭalabam [I ask for forgiveness officially and publicly],, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).

[85] Ākharash Ham Nadānistand Kih Manzilgahi Maqsūd Kujāst, (last visited Dec. 13, 2019).

[86] Id.

[87] Rasman Va ʿAlanan Ḥalāliyyat Miṭalabam [I ask for forgiveness officially and publicly],, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).

[88] Id.

[89] Ākharash Ham Nadānistand Kih Manzilgahi Maqsūd Kujāst, (last visited Dec. 13, 2019).

[90] Rasman Va ʿAlanan Ḥalāliyyat Miṭalabam [I ask for forgiveness officially and publicly],, (last visited Dec. 11, 2019).

[91] Id.

[92]  In the early years after the Revolution Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi participated in televised debates alongside Abdolkarim Soroush and Marxist activists. Later he emerged as an ultra-conservative cleric and one of the most prominent proponents of the Guardianship of Jurist.

[93] Ākharash Ham Nadānistand Kih Manzilgahi Maqsūd Kujāst, (last visited Dec. 13, 2019).

[94] Id.

[95] In 1980 Tehran was home to University of Tehran, Sharif University of Technology, Iran University of Science and Technology, Amir Kabir University of Technology, National University of Iran (later renamed Shahid Beheshti University), and Tarbiat-e Moallem University (later renamed Kharazmi University),

[96] Sarnivishti Dānishgāhhā Va Kunkūri Sarāsarī Rushan Shud, Kayhan, July 8, 1980 at 2.

[97] Id.

[98] Taḥavvul Dar Danishgāhhā Bar Mabnāyi ʾAhdāfi ʾInqilāb, IRNA (Apr. 22, 2015, 09:22 AM),

[99] Reza Ravazi, The Cultural Revolution in Iran, with Close Regard to the Universities, and Its Impact on the Student Movement, 45 Middle Eastern Studies 1, 6 (2009).

[100] Taʾsīsi Shūrāyi ʿĀlīi ʾInqilābi Farhangī Bā ʾAʿ żāyi Jadīd Bih Farmāni ʾImām, (Dec. 10, 2018),سرویس_های_اطلاع_رسانی/امام_خمینی_و_انقلاب_اسلامی/روزنگار_تاسیس_شورای_عالی_انقلاب_فرهنگی_با_اعضای_جدید_به_فرمان_امام.

[101] Id.

[102] Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[103] Article A1, Note 1, Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[104] Article A1, note 2, Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[105] Article A2, Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[106] Article A2, note 1, Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[107] Article A3, Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[108] Article C1, Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[109] Article C2, Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[110] The term gozinesh, which is the Persian word for “selection,” refers to the process of investigating and interviewing applicants to ensure that they comply with Islamic principles and are not opposed to the Islamic Republic.

[111] Article C3, Regulatory Code of Feb. 5, 1985 (Moral Criteria for Selection of University of Applicants), available at

[112] Bahá’í International Community, The Bahá’í Question Revisited:Persecution and Resilience in Iran 94-95 (2016), available at

[113] Id. at 35.

[114] Memorandum of 17 Aug. 1992 (Policies on Women’s Employment in the Islamic Republic of Iran), available at

[115] Memorandum of 17 Aug. 1992 (Policies on Women’s Employment in the Islamic Republic of Iran), art. 5, available at

[116] Witness Statement of Mehrak Kamali, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (Dec. 18, 2019),

[117] Id.

[118] Id.

[119] Id.

[120] Id.

[121] Id.

[122] Id.

[123] Id.

[124] Id.

[125] Id.

[126] Founded in 1983 and based in Tehran, Imam Sadiq University is closely affiliated with the Islamic Republic’s clerical establishment. Members of its board of directors are appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader.

[127] IHRDC Interview with Abbas Khosravi Farsani, (May 28, 2019) (on file with IHRDC).

[128] Id.

[129] Id.

[130] Id.

[131] Id.

[132] Id.

[133] Id.

[134] Id.

[135] Id.

[136] Id.

[137] The Larijani family is one of the most powerful families in the Islamic Republic’s establishment. One brother, Ali Larijani, has served as head of the Iranian state broadcaster and speaker of the Iranian parliament. Sadeq Larijani has served as the head of the Iranian judiciary, member of the Guardian Council, and head of the Expediency Council. Mohammad Javad Larijani has been a member of the parliament and head of the Secretary of the High Council for Human Rights.

[138] IHRDC Interview with Abbas Khosravi Farsani, (May 28, 2019) (on file with IHRDC).

[139] In the summer of 1988, following a failed military operation against the Iranian government by the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an opposition group, the Iranian government executed thousands of political prisoners after summary tribunals. The 1988 massacre of political prisoners has been well documented and discussed in two previous IHRDC reports entitled Deadly Fatwa: Iran’s 1988 Prison Massacre and Speaking for the Dead: Survivor Accounts of Iran’s 1988 Massacre.

[140] In 2009 the Iranian parliament passed the Computer Crimes Law. Article 18 of this law states that a person who publishes falsehoods through the internet with the intention of harming others or disturbing the public or official opinion could be sentenced to a prison term between 91 days to two years or a fine.  Article 22 of this law provided for creation of a task force to determine what material would be considered illegal.

[141] IHRDC Interview with Abbas Khosravi Farsani, (May 28, 2019) (on file with IHRDC).

[142] Id.

[143] Id.

[144] Id.

[145] Id.

[146] Id.

[147] Id.

[148] This amount is approximately equal to $26,850 per the 2012 exchange rate.

[149] IHRDC Interview with Abbas Khosravi Farsani, (May 28, 2019) (on file with IHRDC).

[150] Id.

[151] Id.

[152] Id.

[153] Id.

[154] Id.

[155] Id.

[156] Id.

[157] Id.

[158] Id.

[159] Id.

[160] Id.

[161] Id.

[162] Id.

[163] Id.

[164] Id.

[165] IHRDC Interview with Mina Yazdani, (May 12, 2019) (on file with IHRDC).

[166] Mina Yazdani’s national university entrance examination score card. The score card is presented in Figure 3.

[167] IHRDC Interview with Mina Yazdani, (May 12, 2019) (on file with IHRDC).

[168] Id.

[169] Id.

[170] Id.

[171] Id.

[172] Id.

[173] Id.

[174] Id.

[175] Kayhan Newspaper: 43 Baha’i Students Expelled from University, Archives of Bahá’í Persecution in Iran, https://iranBahá’íá’í-students-expelled-university (last visited Dec. 19, 2019).

[176] IHRDC Interview with Mina Yazdani, (May 12, 2019) (on file with IHRDC).

[177] Id.

[178] Id.

[179] Id.

[180] Id.

[181] Id.

[182] Id.

[183] Id.

[184] Id.

[185] IHRDC Interview with Shiva Pajouheshfard, (June 28, 2018) (on file with IHRDC).

[186] Id.

[187] Id.

[188] Id.

[189] Id.

[190] Id.

[191] Id.

[192] Id.

[193] Id.

[194] Id.

[195] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 13.1, Dec. 16, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3, available at

[196] United Nations, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Gen. Comm. No. 13, ¶ 31, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/10 (Dec. 8, 1999), available at

[197] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 2.2, Dec. 16, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3, available at

[198] ʾIdāmihyi Insidādi Ḥaffārīi Naft Barāyi Zanān, Taadol Newspaper (June 18, 2017), بخش-نفت-انرژی-131/101445-ادامه-انسداد-حفاری-نفت-برای-زنان

[199] IHRDC Interview with Hossein Torkashvand, (July 31, 2019) (on file with IHRDC).

[200] Id.

[201] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 22, Dec. 16, 1966, S. Exec. Rep. 102-23, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, available at

[202] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 19.2, Dec. 16, 1966, S. Exec. Rep. 102-23, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, available at

[203] United Nations, Human Rts. Comm., Gen. Comment No. 34 ¶ 35, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (Sept. 12, 2011), available at


One Response

  1. Nassy Fesharaki

    May 17, 2024 4:17 am

    Hello there,

    I entered the Technical College of Tehran University in September 1977, lived through and dealt with the activities and demonstrations as well as the closures and the opening of the university until the Saddam Attack,

    I vividly remember while the university was closed, for some time, I accepted to teach in a pre-revolution government-related organization, and that lasted until the day of the revolution.

    Then, after the revolution, back to the university, I stepped out for a reason, either to go home or to do something else. I was near the 24 Esfand Roundabout when I was informed of the rising dust from the airport…it was from the bombing by Saddam.

    I headed for the war zone and was never able to return to the university.

    I have difficulty with the exact dates, including the days of riots, rebellions, and shootings that took place in and around the university, both before and after the revolution.

    I would be grateful if someone could help me, please, remind me how many times and for how long (before and the D-Day) the university was shut down, opened, and again shut down and opened…

    I appreciate such help and would be grateful for the help and the detailed information.


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