Penn Law and Human Rights Groups Seek Release of Iranian Scholar

by E Wayne Ross on September 4, 2008

Penn Law and Human Rights Groups Seek Release of Iranian Scholar

PHILADELPHIA (Sept. 3, 2008) – The University of Pennsylvania Law School and two human rights groups today called on the government of Iran to release an Iranian legal scholar scheduled to teach in the U.S.

Mehdi Zakerian, an assistant professor of human rights at an independent university in Tehran, was reportedly detained by the Iranian government in mid-August while he awaited U.S. visa clearance to travel to Philadelphia as a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. The Iranian government has not released any information about his location or condition, nor have any formal charges been brought against him.

“Professor Zakerian is a leading scholar on human rights in the Islamic world,” said Michael A. Fitts, dean of Penn Law. “His scholarship is at the forefront of international and human rights law and we remain hopeful that we can welcome Professor Zakerian to our classrooms.”

Zakerian was detained in Tehran by governmental authorities on or about Aug.15, according to Iranian Human Rights Voice, which reports that he has been “in a ministry of intelligence detention center for the past two weeks.” (

Penn Law was joined by the non-governmental organizations International League for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch in calling for Zakerian’s release.

Zakerian is “one of the leading thinkers on human rights in the Middle East whose writings have helped us all better understand the relationships between human rights and Islam,” said William Burke-White, a professor at Penn Law and an expert in international law. “Professor Zakerian’s detention appears to be part of a broader crackdown on independently minded academics at leading institutions across Iran.”

Zakerian is chairman of the Iranian International Relations Society and a senior researcher at the Center for the Strategic Studies of the Middle East. He is the editor of the journal, International Studies, published quarterly in both Farsi and English, which is devoted to issues of international affairs and human rights. In 2002, Zakerian was a fellow at the Hague Academy of International Law in The Hague, Netherlands.