Scholars At Risk students advocate for Iranian activists

By Farah Bassyouni Dec 2, 2022

Illinois Wesleyan is one of the first universities to engage in Scholars At Risk Student Advocacy Seminar (SSAS), an international advocacy organization that focuses on protecting activists persecuted by a government. Scholars include students, professors, environmentalists and other activists. Students defend the principles of academic freedom and the human rights of scholars around the world. 

The Illinois Wesleyan students involved in SSAS hope to participate in “Advocacy Day” in March by traveling to Washington, D.C. to lobby congressmen about cases they’ve researched. Their current case is about Niloufar Bayani, an Iranian conservationist who was arrested by the Iranian government for “espionage and sowing discord.”

Bayani is a biology researcher, and she was convicted in 2019 in a closed-door trial. She wrote an open letter about the abuse and torture she’s endured. BBC Persia published those letters and claimed she was detained and wasn’t allowed to contact anyone for eight months. She was sentenced without a lawyer, and Iran has faced international pressure from the European Parliament and the United Nation’s Human Rights Council. 

Additionally, SSAS has actively supported Bayani by sending letters to public authorities in Iran, running advocacy seminars in universities and conducting online activities via social networks. 

“We research aspects of Niloufar Bayani’s job history, like her UN Environmental projects, her job at the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation and if her arrest was legal, By our research, some aspects of her trial may not have been legal,” sophomore MJ Soria said. 

Other members of the IWU team are trying to figure out why the Iranian government is arresting conservationists and the political scope of Bayani’s arrest. One of her team members died in custody, and she was given a sentence that could also lead to death. 

Whether or not their activism has any beneficial effect depends on the interest of the representatives in congress. “They may make a statement, they may not. That’s kind of what activism is,” Killian said. 

“We are building a presentation to bring to congressmen about why they should care about Bayani and why this is a serious issue,” Soria said. 

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