Scientific Awakening: Violation of Human Rights of Academic Scholars and Healthcare Professionals in Iran

Mahtab Jafari and Parya Saberi

Is it the obligation of the scientific community to speak up against the violation of human rights of fellow scientists and healthcare professionals? We believe it is.[1] We see it as a moral imperative and the absolute responsibility of any scientist to amplify the voices of scientists who are subjected to human rights violations. A number of editorials and letters published by Iranian scholars outside of Iran have served as such voices and statements of solidarity have been issued by various international medical activist groups.[2] Despite these efforts, egregious human rights tragedies continue to unfold before our eyes and is costing the lives of numerous scholars and healthcare professionals in Iran.[3] We believe it is our duty to continue speaking up against the violation of human rights in Iran.

The purpose of this Viewpoint is to draw the attention of the international scientific community, healthcare organizations, and universities to human rights violations in Iran to garner their active support for the students, scholars, and healthcare professionals who have been arrested, tortured, and killed by the Islamic Republic of Iran during the past 44 years. Their “crime”? Treating injured protestors, revealing the truth, demanding an end to human rights violations, and pursuing liberty.

The atrocities of the Islamic Republic of Iran escalated after the murder of Jhina Mahsa Amini, on 16 September 2022, by the “morality” police in Iran. Her crime was not wearing the compulsory hijab correctly. Her murder ignited widespread protests and an uprising in Iran and around the world and led to the Woman Life Freedom movement–the first women-led revolution in the world. By January 2023, 19,200 protestors had been detained and many subjected to torture. Over 500 people have been killed, including at least 71 children; the mean age of detainees is 15 years.[4] The Injured protestors cannot go to hospitals for treatment because hospitals are patrolled by the security forces who kidnap and jail them in one of the most notorious prison systems in the world.[5] Trials that do occur are shams where the accused are assigned a so-called lawyer who signs falsified confessions attesting that the individual participated in organizing protests against the regime, committing treason, and being the enemy of Islam.[6]

Healthcare professionals who help injured protestors in underground settings are in imminent danger and often kidnapped and killed. For example, Dr. Ayda Rostami and Dr. Ebrahim Rigi were among the physicians who were arrested, tortured, and killed for treating injured protestors underground.[7]

According to Scholars at Risk, students and professors from various prominent universities in Iran who have protested have been subject to a violent crackdown by the Islamic Republic security forces.[8] Even before the current uprising, the academic community witnessed numerous atrocities at the hands of the regime. Female scholars are generally subjected to harsher restrictions than their male counterparts and if they do not follow the rules of compulsory hijab, they are detained, interrogated, and sometimes expelled from the university.[9]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars and healthcare professionals who questioned the Iranian authorities, who prohibited import of US- and UK-developed SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, were arrested and silenced.[10] Unproven and ineffective vaccines developed, marketed, and sold by the Islamic Regime affiliates are currently administered to Iranians which will contribute to more deaths of Iranians.[11]

Parallel to these crimes, there are other strains on the healthcare workforce. Ambulances are being used to transport security forces to protest sites where the forces open fire on protestors and haul detainees to prisons. During a protest held in front of the Medical Council in Tehran to express concerns regarding misuse of healthcare, including kidnapping injured protestors from hospitals, over 35 physicians and medical students were arrested and tortured, and Dr. Parisa Bahmani, a surgeon, was shot in the head and killed by the security forces.[12] After this tragic event, over 3,500 physicians signed a letter to express solidarity knowing that their lives will also be in danger.[13]

Injured demonstrators often avoid seeking medical care because they know medical data is breached, and they are at risk of being jailed. The risks of persecution and imprisonment is resulting in university student activists fleeing from Iran. Between November 2022 and April 2023 more than 1,000 students (mainly schoolgirls) in at least 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces have reported cases of chemical gas poisoning. These students report chemical odors in their classrooms resulting in symptoms of respiratory distress, numbness in limbs, heart palpitations, headaches, nausea and vomiting, fainting, and eye irritation, with many hospitalized.[14] Toxicologists from the Health Ministry identified the toxins as nitrogen gas. Despite this, members of the revolutionary guard have been reported to follow victims to hospitals and disrupt medical treatment by seizing test results, intimidating medical staff, and preventing them from communicating test results with the victims’ families.[15] In a recent statement, UN experts expressed “outrage at the deliberate poisoning of more than 1200 schoolgirls in Iran’s major cities and the State’s failure to protect them, prevent further attacks and conduct swift investigations.”[16]

Healthcare professionals outside Iran have established various programs such as Kian Foundation and MAHSA-Medical to provide remote healthcare to injured protestors and tele-consulting to healthcare professionals in Iran.[17] The WomanLifeFreedom at UCSF group has partnered with their local Scholars at Risk program to further assist scholars hoping to continue their studies at the University of California, San Francisco or University of California, Berkeley.[18]

We cannot silently watch the violation of human rights in Iran. We believe that it is our responsibility, as healthcare professionals and university faculty, to strengthen the voices of the Iranian scientists and healthcare professionals who are protesting, subjected to extreme punishments for speaking up against the regime, and harmed for performing their moral and ethical duties. We strongly believe that it is the responsibility of the scientific community to speak out against the violation of fellow scientists’ human rights. We call on the international scientific community, healthcare organizations, and universities to continue amplifying the voice of Iranians scientists, scholars, and healthcare providers in Iran. We urge them to support our colleagues and condemn the outrageous tragedies at the hands of a brutal regime that is costing the lives of innocent people in Iran. We call on them to demand an end to the violation of human rights in Iran.

Mahtab Jafari is Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of California, Irvine, USA. Email:

Parya Saberi is Associate Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA. Email:


1 N. Madani, “Be the Voice for Scientists in Iran”, Science, (2022) 378/6620, p.578.

[2]  Ibid; T. Patel, et al., “Protecting public health in Iran in the face of oppression,” National Medicine (2023) 29/4 p. 767-768; Science Europe calls for an immediate end to the violent repression of protests in Iran. Science Europe, 12 Nov 2022, available from:; Iran Protests: More Doctors Treating Protestors Killed, Tortured and Detained, available from:; P. Loft,  Iran protests 2022: Human rights and international response House of Commons Library: Research Briefing 2023, available from:

[3] Iran Protests: More Doctors Treating Protestors Killed, Tortured and Detained, Iran Human Rights, available from:

[4] Ibid.

[5] O. Dyer, “Iran’s doctors are targeted as police seek wounded protesters in hospitals,” (2022) 379:o2785

[6] Loft (see note 2).

[7] See note 5.

[8] Scholars at Risk Network, 2022, available from:

[9] Ibid.

[10] Y. Torbati, “Amid COVID surge, Iran cut corners to approve yet-unproven vaccine,” Washington Post 2022  available from:

[11] Ibid.

[12] (see note 5).

[13] (see note 5).

[14] School Girls Continue to Face Chemical Attacks, Officials Refuse to Provide Security. Iran Human Rights (2023), available from:; Deliberate poisoning of schoolgirls further evidence of continuous violence against women and girls, UNOHCHR, 16 March 2023, available from:;

[15] (see note 5).

[16] UN Special Rapporteur Alarmed By Deterioration of Human Rights Condition in Iran, Human Rights Activists News Agency, 10 March 2023, available from:

[17] MAHSA Medical:

[18]  WomanLifeFreedom at UCSF:; Scholars At Risk: