Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch Charges Iranian Government with Harassment and Arbitrary Restrictions on the Rights of Prominent Iranian Scholar

Human Rights Watch
July 21, 1997
Press Release

In an open letter to President Rafsanjani today, Human Rights Watch charges the Iranian government with harassment and arbitrary assaults on the basic civil and political rights of Dr. Abdol Karim Soroush, a leading scholar and proponent of religious reform in Iran.

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A copy of the letter to President Rafsanjani follows.

July 22, 1997

His Excellency Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani
President, Islamic Republic of Iran
Tehran, Iran

Your Excellency:

We are writing this open letter to protest continuing harassment and assaults on the basic civil and political rights of prominent Iranian scholar Dr. Abdol Karim Soroush.

For the past two years, Dr. Soroush, an internationally reknowned philosopher and a leading proponent of religious reform in Iran, has been the subject of physical attacks by Hezbollahi mobs, with the apparent acquiescence of government authorities. Instead of coming to his aid, government authorities themselves have threatened him, censored his speech, and have now confiscated his passport.

In May 1995, Dr. Soroush was attacked by Hezbollahi mobs as he gave a lecture, prompting more than one hundred of his academic colleagues to sign an open letter in July 1995 calling on Your Excellency to uphold the Iranian constitution by taking affirmative steps to prevent such threats to the free exchange of ideas. As the attacks continued in the following months, however, government security personnel repeatedly refused to intervene to protect Dr. Soroush, rendering it all but impossible for him to continue to teach or give public lectures. Dr. Soroush subsequently received harassing phone calls and threats from officials at the Ministry of Information who warned him not to write or speak on matters pertaining to the government or clergy. In May 1996, unable to pursue a livelihood and unprotected from continuing mob attacks, Dr. Soroush left Iran fearing for his safety. In an open letter to Your Excellency, dated May 9, 1996, Dr. Soroush called on the government for protection of the right of academics and students to engage in open intellectual discussion.

Shortly after returning to Iran in April 1997, Dr. Soroush, still unable to resume his teaching duties, reportedly was dismissed from his remaining post at a research institute. Although he has since been allowed on occasion to make public speeches, such as a lecture in Tehran in June of this year reportedly attended by over 3,000 people, his passport has been confiscated by officials at the Ministry of Information. As a result, Dr. Soroush has been prevented from attending academic seminars to which he was invited in Germany, Malaysia, and, most recently, England, where the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies had invited him to give a plenary address at a conference held July 6-9, 1997.

In an open letter to Your Excellency, dated July 6, 1997, Dr. Soroush recounts these unfortunate events as well as a recent incident in which an official at the Ministry of Information threatened that he would not be able to resume teaching and could face imprisonment if he did not stop calling for systematic reform of government in the Islamic Republic.

As academic leaders, scientists and scholars dedicated to human rights, we deplore the continuing arbitrary restrictions on Dr. Soroush's freedom to pursue his academic work. These restrictions violate fundamental provisions of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iran on June 24, 1975, including the right to leave his country, guaranteed by article 12, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression, guaranteed by article 19. Violation of these freedoms has direct and deleterious effects on scholarship and academic freedom. Members of the academic community cannot fulfill their paramount role in fostering free inquiry, rational discourse and open exchange of ideas where they must live in fear that, if they express their views, they will be subjected to intimidation and deprivation of basic rights.

We respectfully urge you to use your good offices to ensure that all harassment of Dr. Soroush cease and that his right to teach and right to travel freely be restored immediately.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter. We look forward to your reply.


Jonathan Fanton
Co-Chair, Human Rights Watch
Academic Freedom Committee

Eric Goldstein
Acting Executive Director
Human Rights Watch/Middle East

cc: Hojatoleslam Muhammad Khatami, President-elect