Human Rights Watch is a
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the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the
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July 22, 1997
His Excellency Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani
President, Islamic Republic of Iran
We are writing this open letter to protest continuing harassment and
assaults on the basic civil and politicalrights of prominent Iranian
scholar Dr. Abdol Karim Soroush.
For the past two years, Dr. Soroush, an internationally reknowned
philosopher and a leading proponent of religiousreform 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 orclergy. 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 fulfilltheir 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.
Co-Chair, Human Rights Watch Acting
Academic Freedom Committee Human
Rights Watch/Middle East
cc: Hojatoleslam Muhammad Khatami, President-elect