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Academic leaders speak out in defense of embattled Iranian scholar


(New York, September 7, 1999, Human Rights Watch) -- In an open letter today to the new head of the Iranian judiciary, the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee called for immediate review of the arrest and conviction of Mohsen Kadivar.

Kadivar, a nationally prominent scholar and cleric, and an outspoken advocate of greater democratization in Iran, was convicted in April by the Special Court for the Clergy in Teheran for, among other things, "confusing public opinion" for his advocacy of political reform. He is on temporary "compassionate leave" from Evin Prison, but is due to be returned to prison soon to continue serving his eighteen-month sentence.

Kadivar's only 'crime' was to express his opinions," said Joseph Saunders, Human Rights Watch academic freedom specialist. "But his opinions challenged the politically entrenched position of the religious authorities, and in Iran you can go to jail for that."

Noting the recent appointment of Seyyed M.H. Shahroudi, considered a reform-minded legal scholar, to head the judiciary, Mr. Saunders added: "Now is the time for the judiciary to assert its independence by re-opening the case and seeing to it that Kadivar gets a fair trial."

The letter was signed on behalf of the committee by Jonathan Fanton, who recently completed a seventeen-year term as president of the New School University in New York, and by Hanny Megally, who heads the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

In addition to Mr. Fanton, the membership of the committee includes internationally prominent academic leaders and scholars, including presidents of Harvard University, Columbia University and over a dozen other universities in the United States, and figures such as Lord Ralf Dahrendorf, currently affiliated with the London School of Economics, Krzysztof Michalski of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Ariel Dorfman of Duke University, John Kenneth Galbraith of Harvard University, and Fang Lizhi of the University of Arizona.

A copy of the letter follows.

September 7, 1999

By Facsimile

H.E. Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Head of the Judiciary
Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Excellency:

Congratulations on your recent appointment as head of Iran's judiciary. We are writing this open letter on behalf of the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee to urge you to do everything in your power to see that justice is served in the case of Islamic scholar and professor of philosophy Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar. We understand that Dr. Kadivar is currently on "compassionate leave" from Evin prison in Tehran but is due to be returned to prison in the near future to continue serving his jail term.

Dr. Kadivar, a former aide to President Khatami, has been a vocal but peaceful proponent of democratization. Dr. Kadivar also is one of the founding members of the recently established Iranian Association for Defending Freedom of the Press.

On April 21, 1999, Dr. Kadivar was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment by the Special Court for the Clergy (Dadgah-e Vizhe-ye Ruhaniyat) in Tehran. Dr. Kadivar had been detained since February 27, 1999, charged with "propaganda against the sacred system of the Islamic Republic," "publishing lies," and "confusing public opinion" for ideas and views he had expressed in a series of essays, lectures, and newspaper articles.

According to Iranian press reports dated July 25, 1999, his conviction subsequently was upheld on appeal. We understand, however, that, with recent changes in the judiciary, there is a possibility that there will be a new appeal and that Dr. Kadivar's arrest and conviction will be reconsidered by judicial authorities.

As a group of academic leaders and scholars committed to academic freedom and protection of the basic rights of educators and students worldwide, it is not our intention to support or dispute the opinions, ideas, or research findings of the scholars and students whose cases we discuss. It is, however, a central feature of our mandate to defend their right to express their views as citizens and to study, research, teach, and publish without interference.

We believe that the arrest and sentencing of Dr. Kadivar for the peaceful expression of his views directly contravenes the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and violates Dr. Kadivar's internationally recognized rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as well as his right to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention.

For the reasons set forth above, we urge you to use your influence and authority to ensure judicial review of Dr. Kadivar's case with a view to overturning his conviction. Should there be a retrial, we urge that you take all measures necessary to ensure that the new trial is conducted in accordance with international human rights standards and that Dr. Kadivar not be punished for peacefully exercising his basic right to express his views and ideas.

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



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


Hanny Megally
Executive Director, Human Rights Watch,
Middle East and North Africa Division.

cc: Hojjatoleslam val Moslemin Sayed Mohammad Khatami
President, Islamic Republic of Iran
The Presidency
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection

His Excellency Dr. Mostafa Moin
Minister of Culture and Higher Education, Islamic Republic of Iran
Shahid Beheshti Avenue, Takhti Sq., Shahid Adaee Building

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