Thursday 14 June 2007

Academic freedom under threat in Iran

A 'relentless campaign by the leaders of the Islamic Republic against the most basic principles of human rights'. That's what is exemplified by the detention of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, according to the 139 academics (including many from Iran and the Middle East) who have put their names to a statement in the latest New York Review of Books. As the statement says, Esfandiari's imprisonment is not an isolated incident, but a symptom of a worrying trend in Ahmadinejad's Iran:

In recent weeks, scores of women's rights activists have been harassed, physically attacked, and detained for no greater a crime than demonstrating peacefully and circulating petitions calling for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices. University students across the country have faced expulsion, arrest, and imprisonment for peacefully protesting the erosion of the administrative and academic independence of their universities.

As I've noted before, the growing restrictions on academic (and other kinds of) freedom under authoritarian regimes such as that in Iran should be an urgent cause for concern and solidarity among western scholars - rather than the organisation of boycotts against countries such as Israel where academic life is arguably the most unconstrained in the Middle East. Note, however, that the scholars writing to the NYRB refrain - rightly, in my view - from calling for a boycott of Iran, presumably because they sense that this would restrict the very freedoms which they seek to defend.

Find out more about the campaign to free Haleh here. Support the campaign to stop the UCU boycott here.

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