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School of Law

Nargess Tavassolian

LLB : Shahidbeheshty University : Tehran, Iran, L.L.M: McGill University: Montreal, Canada


Nargess Tavassolian
Nargess Tavassolian
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Thesis title:
Freedom of Thought and Expression in post-1979 Iran ( a Comparative Study Between Iranian law, Islamic Law and International Law)
Internal Supervisors


Nargess Tavassolian is currently doing her PhD in law at SOAS University of London. Her thesis is on the breach of freedom of thought and expression in post-1979 Iran ( A Comparative study between international law, Islamic law and Iranian law).  Nargess, is a lawyer in Iran, but left Iran in 2006 in order to pursue her higher education abroad. Being interested in criminology and international law, she decided to do her master in International Criminal law at McGill University in Canada. She has also the experience of working as a legal intern with the prosecution team at the International Criminal Court, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leona. In Iran, she worked with many NGOs including the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child, the Center for Human Rights Defenders and also worked as a legal intern for the office of Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate 2003. She is also a member of the " One Million Signature Campaign for Changing the Discriminatory laws". Nargess, sometimes writes on Iran's legal and social issues, mainly for RoozOnline website/newspaper.

PhD Research

Freedom of expression and freedom to manifest a certain thought or religion is not undisputed even under international law. Rather, it can be restricted to the rights and reputation of others and public order provided that the restrictions be necessary, proportionate and stated in the law. The Iranian government has tried to justify the breach of its human rights obligations including the two rights of freedom of thought, conscience and religion along with the right to freedom of expression, under two pretexts: 1. By arguing that the restrictions that Iran imposes on the right to freedom of thought and expression are legitimate and allowed under international law; 2. By resorting to the cultural relativist argument, stating that in some areas that human rights conflict with Islam, human rights should be forfeited in favour of Islam, because Iranians have the right to live by their own culture and religion. The Iranian government presents these arguments both inside the country through its state media and at the international level (for example at the United Nation Human Rights Council). To some extent, the Iranian government has managed to advance its arguments both in the West and inside Iran.
This thesis aims to thwart these two allegations. By examining the limits of freedom of expression and the permitted restrictions under international law, the thesis demonstrates the flaws of Iran’s first argument in that its restriction of rights are  permitted under international law. Next, by supporting the legal theory of universalism of human rights and refuting cultural relativism, the thesis challenges the second argument of the Iranian government. The theory of cultural relativism is refuted both at the international level as well as in the specific context of Iran. The thesis looks at the causes of the breach of the freedom of thought and expression in Iran. The infringement of these rights can be traced into two factors: 1. the flawed power structure of Iran which allows abuse of the discretion assigned for the authorities in restricting rights; 2. the contradictory nature of Iranian laws. The thesis concludes that until the flawed power structure is amended and the contradictory laws are revised, there is no hope for upholding human rights (including the right to freedom of thought and expression) in Iran. Localization of human rights will be recommended as a means to implement human rights and to achieve the two mentioned changes. In this process, reformers as well as local NGOs need to work hand-in-hand.

PhD Conferences

  • Participating in a workshop on “Communication & Media”, organized by United for Iran, Article 19 and Arseh Sevom (Third Sphere) Organization, July 2012: Sofia, Bulgaria.
  • Participating and presenting in a workshop on “Judicial Reform and Transitional Justice in Iran” organized by Legatum Institute:  May 2012: London, UK
  • Participating and presenting in the several workshops organized by the World Bank on “Women’s Empowerment in Persian Speaking Countries”: Holland (June 2010) and the UK (December 2011).
  • Participating and presenting in a workshop on “Young Leaders and the Strategy of Nonkilling”, organized by the Centre for Global Nonkilling, October 2011: Hawaii, USA.
  • Participating in a workshop on “Law and Multiculturalism” at Melbourne University, organized by the University of Melbourne, February-March 2011: Australia.
  • Participating in a workshop on “Women in Conflict”, organized by the Nobel Women's Initiative: May 2011: Ottawa, Canada.
  • Presenting a paper on “Legal Framework of Homosexuality in Iran”, at the 1st International LGBT Human Rights Summit in the UK: Cardiff, Wales: August 2011.
  • Participating in a workshop on Women in Conflict organized by AWID Forum in April 2012.
  • Participating in a workshop for online activists, organized by United for Iran, Freedom House and Arseh Sevom (Third Sphere) Organization, December 2012, Holland.


International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, Journalism.