Iranian Government Replaces University Professors Accused of Backing “Woman, Life, Freedom’ Protests with Regime Loyalists
At least 26 Professors Punished, Students Face Heightened Restrictions and Repression
September 13, 2023 – One year after the inception of Iran’s “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, research conducted by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has revealed that dozens of university professors in Iran have been fired, suspended, or forced into retirement due to allegations of supporting the movement. Some have been replaced by individuals with well-established ties to the state.
This intensified crackdown is further compounded by the arbitrary detention of family members seeking justice for their loved ones who were killed by state security forces during the protests last year.
“These developments underscore the determination of the Iranian government to quash dissent across all potential avenues of protest, especially as the anniversary of the initial protests approaches on September 16, 2022,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
“We urgently call upon the international community to remain vigilant and vigorously support the Iranian people’s right to peacefully voice their concerns, both in academic settings and in the streets, without the threat of persecution or state violence,” he said.
Spurred by the killing in state custody of Mahsa Jina Amini, 22, on September 16, 2022, just three days after she was arrested for her allegedly inappropriate hijab, universities across the country emerged as significant centers of protest.
According to CHRI’s research, a minimum of 26 university professors have accordingly faced consequences for their purported support of these protests (a list of confirmed names is included at the end of this report).
Additionally, a considerable number of students have been subjected to punitive measures issued by university disciplinary committees, as well as summoned to security agencies, where they faced threats aimed at coercing them to cease their protests.
The government has also implemented changes to university entrance exams and altered course availability to intimidate and deter students who may be inclined to continue protesting.
Protesting Professors Ousted and Replaced by Regime Supporters
Since Ebrahim Raisi assumed the presidency in 2021, the number of academics expelled from universities surged to at least 110, in contrast to the 85 during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration (2005-2013), and 14 under Hassan Rouhani’s tenure (2013-2021), as reported by the Persian-language Etemad newspaper on August 31, 2023.
Simultaneously, individuals with established connections to state institutions, including those employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s (IRIB) state broadcasting organization—a body that aids state security agencies in stifling dissent through its programs, notably broadcasting forced false confessions by political prisoners—have been enlisted to replace the ousted academics.
According to an August 27, 2023 report by Fars, a news agency with close ties to the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Amir Hossein Sabeti, the host of IRIB’s Jahanara news show who has personally aided intelligence agencies in obtaining forced “confessions,” as well as regularly expressing support for repressive state policies, has been hired to teach a course on the Islamic Revolution at the prestigious Sharif University.
Another IRIB television presenter, Abbas Mozoun, will teach “life principles” at Sharif as well.
In addition, Saeid Haddadian, a well-known Islamic singer close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has been appointed as a graduate-level literature professor by the University of Tehran.
At the same time, members of Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi, an Iraqi militia linked to the IRGC, have been enrolling at Tehran University to keep an eye on student protesters, according to an August 9, 2023, report by the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency.
Ousted Professors Speaks Out
At least 26 university professors have faced severe persecution by the government for their alleged backing of protesting students, with a minimum of 11 fired in the month of August 2023, just weeks before the September 16 anniversary of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement.
“Allow me to say sincerely: I am a teacher. I taught in schools for many years, and, for nearly 10 years, I have been teaching in the university. As teachers, we cannot, and should not, be subservient to governments. We earn our bread from the people and therefore we must act as their servants. The schools and universities are the home of the nation’s children, whose rights we support, and their home we shall protect.”
Ameneh Aali, a professor recently expelled from the College of Psychology at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, for allegedly supporting the protests, penned those words in an open letter published on Persian social media on August 28, 2023.
She added, “I took a just stand, but these gentlemen didn’t like it. First, without following appropriate administrative procedures, they decided to remove me as the head of my academic group, and then barred me from the university itself so that they wouldn’t feel the full weight of this serious social responsibility on their brittle shoulders, and to be able to enjoy their thriving tyranny a little longer, unaware that ‘your oppression shall also pass,’ (as the saying goes).”
In addition to Aali, Hamideh Khademi, a fellow professor at the university’s College of Psychology, was fired via a phone call, according to a report by the University Students Trade Unions Council.
The council also confirmed the expulsion of seven professors from the University of Tehran’s College of Literature: Vahid Eidgah, assistant professor of Persian language and literature; Lili Varahram, professor of ancient cultures and languages; Javad Bashari, assistant professor of Persian literature; Ghasem Azizi, assistant professor of Arabic language and literature; Milad Azimi, assistant professor of Persian language and literature; Dariush Rahmanian, associate professor of history; and Hossein Mesbahian, assistant professor of philosophy.
Two days earlier, Ali Sharifi Zarchi, a faculty member of the Bioinformation and Artificial Intelligence Department at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, tweeted on August 26 that he had received an expulsion letter.
Also, on August 17, Mahdi Khoei, a sociology professor at Allameh Tabatabai University, announced his expulsion from the university on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter) after seven years of teaching.
“Woe upon us for having a cabinet minister who can’t even react to the disgraceful actions taking place in the institutions under his authority. Woe upon us for having a primary university that doesn’t appreciate great people like Milad Azimi and Vahid Eidgah. And woe upon us for having officials with defective genes who consider Ali Sharifi Zarchi to be a thorn in their side.”
On August 21, music professor Azin Movahed said about her suspension by the University of Tehran, “How could I teach Mozart’s aesthetics in the classroom when the students were not feeling secure? It was impossible.”
State Changes Entrance Exams, Curricula, and Majors to Silence Dissent
To dampen the spirit of protest at Iranian universities, the government made changes to the national university entrance exams while reducing the availability of art majors by over 3,100 slots. Meanwhile, subjects like religion, mysticism, theology, Islamic law, and the Quran have witnessed significant increases in enrollment opportunities.
The booklet that lists available majors at universities has undergone two revisions within this year alone. Some universities have canceled subjects such as philosophy at Bahonar University in Kerman, as well as sculpture and cinema at the Arts University, which has multiple branches in different cities.
Soodeh, a female student from a small town in Golestan province who achieved a high score on the university entrance exams, shared with CHRI, “I was greatly drawn to the defiant atmosphere at the Art University because I witnessed how students in the sculpture department participated in last year’s protests. It was evident that this subject was discontinued due to student protests.”
She added, “My family has been involved in carpet and kilim design for generations. For many years, I had planned to study carpets at the Art University in Tehran. Unfortunately, everything is chaotic right now. The university has announced that dorm rooms will not be offered to new students until the quotas for scholarship students are filled… I might overcome gender discrimination, but what am I supposed to do without a dorm room? It’s absolutely impossible for my family to cover my living expenses in Tehran and rent a place for me.”
In a statement published on August 22, a group of Art University students disclosed that the removal of the sculpture major for new students was a response to several student performances and installations in support of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement and in honor of those killed by Islamic Republic forces.
Bardia, another student who has earned the grade to enroll in university, expressed his concerns to CHRI: “When I was preparing for the entrance exam, I wasn’t well-informed about the university’s expectations and campus environment. I simply wanted to go and study the subject I was passionate about. However, the situation has changed somewhat. Universities were significant centers of protest last year, and I no longer feel the sense of security and comfort that I thought might exist on campus.”
“I used to tell myself that I would go to university, study, enjoy my time, and eventually immigrate,” Bardia continued. “But now I anticipate unpleasant developments. I don’t have much hope that the university environment will have improved compared to last year.”
During the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement, protests were held at more than 140 major universities throughout the country and more than 750 students were arrested.
Amirkabir University students’ news channel on the Telegram app, on August 16th published a list of 2,843 students who have been summoned to disciplinary committees.
Following is a list of names of academics who’ve been fired in Iran for allegedly supporting protests, as of September 12, 2023, according to research by CHRI:
1- Masoud Olia, Art University
2- Amir Maziar, Art University
3- Mohammad Reza Nazarinejad, University of Gilan
4- Roham Afghani, Sharif University
5- Ali Sharifi Zarchi, Sharif University
6- Hamideh Khademi, Allameh Tabatabai University
7- Ameneh Aali, Allameh Tabatabai University
8- Mahdi Khoie, Allameh Tabatabai University
9- Aziz Shafiei Zarghani, University of Shiraz
10- Baharak Akhtar Danesh, Bahonar University of Kerman
11- Mohammad Mehdi Oloumi, Bahonar University of Kerman
12- Raheleh Alimoradzadeh, Tehran Medical Science University
13- Dariush Rahmanian, University of Tehran
14- Vahid Eidgah, TUniversity of Tehran
15- Javad Bashari, University of Tehran
16- Milad Azimi, University of Tehran
17- Lili Varharam, University of Tehran
18- Ghasem Azizi, University of Tehran
19- Hossein Mesbahian, University of Tehran
20- Arash Bidallahkhani, Ferdowsi university of Mashhad
21- Shirzad Azad, Ferdowsi university of Mashhad
22- Azin Movahed, Tehran Art University
23- Maham Mighani, Tehran Art University
24- Mehdi Motee, University of Isfahan
25- Mohammad Soltani, University of Isfahan
26- Bahram Chamanara, University of Kurdistan