Scholars at Risk monitors reports of threats to academic freedom and higher education communities worldwide, including media articles, blogs, opinion pieces and other announcements. Scholars at Risk identifies situations of concern on its own and welcomes reports submitted by faculty, students and volunteers at participating higher education institutions. Subscribe to SAR’s weekly media review
The below articles have been featured in this year’s media reviews.
Threatened scholars: online harassment risks academic freedom
David Matthews, Times Higher Education, 02/14
Two academics who were bombarded with death and rape threats after they were selected by Twitter to research communication on the platform have warned that such incidents will make scholars afraid to speak to the public. Rebekah Tromble, assistant professor of political communication at Leiden University, and Patricia Rossini, a postdoctoral researcher at Syracuse University in New York state, said that they had feared for their safety during an onslaught of tens of thousands of hostile tweets, comments and emails last July. Read more.
Uighur academics targeted by Chinese ‘cultural cleansing’
Ellie Bothwell, Times Higher Education, 02/12
Academics have been urged to protest against China’s mass internment of the Uighur community and to reconsider their interactions with state-controlled educational programmes as the country’s persecution of Muslim minorities continues. A report from the Uyghur Human Rights Project states that at least 338 Uighur intellectuals have been “interned, imprisoned or forcibly disappeared” since April 2017, in what it describes as the “Chinese state’s ‘cultural cleansing’ campaign”. Read more.
Turkey’s mass trials deepen wounds left by attempted coup
Carlotta Gall, The New York Times, 02/12
Turkish courts are just weeks from concluding some 300 mass trials intended to draw a line under the most traumatic event of Turkey’s recent history: the failed 2016 coup that killed 251 people, mostly civilians, and wounded more than 2,000. Read more.
Sudan security arrests professors as protests rage on: witnesses
Khalid Abdelaziz, Yousef Saba, Andrew Heavens, Reuters, 02/12
Security forces arrested 14 professors who were gathering to protest outside Khartoum University on Tuesday, witnesses said, as anti-government demonstrations neared the end of their eighth week. Doctors also rallied outside state and private hospitals in Sudan’s capital and other cities against the rule of President Omar al-Bashir, witnesses added. Read more.
Scientists in Hungary protest govt takeover of research
Pablo Gorondi, The Associated Press, 02/12
Scientists in Hungary on Tuesday protested government efforts to take control of their research funding, a move they say endangers academic freedom. Several thousand people formed a human chain around the headquarters of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, urging the academy’s leaders to fight the government plan and hold onto their independence. Read more.
Two kinds of academic freedom? Lessons from a scholar who fled Turkey
Shannon Dea, University Affairs, 02/11
Should there be a separate conception of academic freedom for precarious and independent scholars? After last month’s Dispatch was published, I shared it on Facebook. In the comment thread below the post, University of Guelph visiting assistant professor Evren Altinkas provocatively asked “Is it ‘academic freedom’ or ‘freedom of [the] academician?” Intrigued, I asked him to explain the distinction he had in mind. Read more.
Iranian agents tried to frame detained conservationists by staging scenes to falsely implicate them
Center for Human Rights in Iran, 02/11
Amid eight conservationists’ closed-door trial in Iran’s revolutionary court system, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has been informed that agents staged scenes around at least two of the detainees with the intent of implicating them in a false narrative. Read more.
Cambridge University student Peter Biar Ajak ‘detained in hellhole’
A Cambridge University student facing the death penalty in South Sudan is being “arbitrarily detained in a modern-day hellhole”, his lawyer says. PhD student Peter Biar Ajak, 35, a critic of his country’s regime, has been detained without charge since his arrest at Juba Airport in July. His lawyer Jared Genser said this was “in clear violation of his rights under international law”. Read more.
Academic freedom and the Inter-American Human Rights System (Spanish)
Salvador Herencia Carrasco, Catalina Aragón Patiño, Los Tiempos, 02/08
Between February 7 and 16, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will hold its 171st session in Sucre, Bolivia. The public hearings will be from February 13 to 15, which represents an opportunity for the legal community, the media and the public to know how the Inter-American System works (IAHRS), as well as the human rights challenges in the region. Read more.
Universities in battle to build trust in a hostile world
Mary Beth Marklein, University World News, 02/08
Central European University (CEU), the bastion of academic freedom being forced out of Budapest, Hungary, received a shot in the arm last month when a team of United States academics recommended it be re-accredited for another five years. “A remarkable institution,” Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels, the team leader, wrote in the Washington Post. Read more.
Parliament to summon security companies over student protests
Tamar Khan, Business Day, 02/06
Parliament will summon private security companies to explain their actions in quelling student protests, following the death of a student at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) on Tuesday. Read more.
15-Month Deferred Prison Sentence for 3 Academics
Tansu Pişkin, Bianet, 02/06
Academics İnci Özkan Kerestecioğlu, Biriz Berksoy and Canay Şahin have been sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison. The court board of the İstanbul 36th Heavy Penal Court has ruled that the announcement of all three verdicts shall be deferred. Read more.
Foreign academics ‘less likely’ to speak up for academic freedom
Ellie Bothwell, Times Higher Education, 02/06
The hiring of international academics at universities in Singapore could reinforce the country’s lack of academic freedom and “make the academy more conservative”, a scholar has claimed. Read more.
Iran Detains Conservationist as 8 Others Tried in Court
Michael Lipin, VOA, 02/04
Iran has detained another environmentalist who worked for the same Iranian conservation organization as eight activists who went on trial in Tehran last week after spending a year in detention. A reliable source in Iran told VOA Persian that Iranian authorities detained Pouria Sepahvand of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation on Saturday. Read more.
Treatment of Saudi women activists could be torture, UK panel finds
Middle East Eye, 02/04
A panel of British MPs and lawyers investigating the detention of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia has concluded that their treatment could constitute torture under Saudi and international law. Read more.
Venezuelan universities ‘approaching point of no return’
Rachael Pells, Times Higher Education, 02/03
University leaders in Venezuela have called on the United Nations to intervene in the country’s political crisis amid warnings that the deterioration of the higher education system is approaching the point of no return. Read more.
Unrest grows as Sudanese professors boycott al-Bashir
Mail & Guardian, 02/01
About 300 Sudanese professors and lecturers from the University of Khartoum held a sit-in protest on campus on Wednesday against President Omar al-Bashir’s government, a spokesperson for the group said. Deadly protests have rocked the East African country since December 19, after a government decision to triple the price of bread. Read more.
Disappearing textbook highlights debate in China over academic freedom
Christian Shepherd, Reuters, 02/01
A constitutional law textbook written by one China’s best-known reform-minded legal scholars has been pulled from book shops, apparently the latest text to run afoul of a government campaign against “Western influence”. The author, Zhang Qianfan, a professor at Peking University known for his advocacy of constitutionalism and judicial reform, dismissed any suggestion his writing excessively promoted Western ideas as “utter nonsense”, and said the academic world should not be politicized. Read more.
A man who spoke for peace must not be met with silence
Lisa Klaassen, Varsity, 01/31
When striving for peace is punished, courage must prevail. Peter Biar Ajak, a peace activist and PhD student at the University of Cambridge, was contending for peace and youth leadership in his native South Sudan when he was arrested at Juba Airport on July 28th, 2018. Since being taken into custody at the notorious South Sudanese prison known as the Blue House, Peter has been held without receiving formal charges, delaying his right to legal representation and any attempts at release. Read more.
Uganda’s Makerere University at center of row over academic freedom
Wambi Michael, Deutsche Welle, 01/31
The row began shortly before Christmas when Makerere University dismissed 45 members of its academic staff. The purpose of this was said to be to stamp out indiscipline. Vice Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe also suspended the chairperson of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), Dr. Deus Kamunyu, as well as Barnett Magara, chair of the Makerere University Administrative Association (MASA) and Joseph Kalema, secretary-general of the Administrative Staff Association. Read more.
Call for sector guidelines on academic freedom on social media
Ellie Bothwell, Times Higher Education, 01/31
Universities and academics must urgently establish what constitutes acceptable speech by scholars online, experts have claimed, as several staff at institutions across the UK reveal that they have been contacted or disciplined by managers over their use of social media. One senior member of staff at a UK university told Times Higher Education that his institution recently considered asking him to resign from his administrative duties after he published a negative tweet about UK government policies. Read more.
Do Australia, New Zealand academics fear travelling to China after Yang Hengjun’s arrest?
John Power, South China Morning Post, 01/30
China’s detention of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun earlier this month is fuelling fears among some sinologists in Australia and New Zealand that it is not safe to travel to the mainland for work. Yang, an Australian citizen and former Chinese diplomat who has criticised Beijing for censorship and overseas interference, has been held on the mainland under “residential surveillance” on suspicion of espionage since January 19. He was on a family trip when he was taken at Guangzhou airport. Read more.
Uyghur scholars and students interned or disappeared
Yojana Sharma, University World News, 01/30
Specific details are emerging about an alarming number of university teachers of China’s Uyghur Muslim minority identified as interned, imprisoned or forcibly disappeared in China – part of a major government crackdown on Uyghurs that has seen around 1 million detained in camps in Xinjiang province since 2017. A new report released this week by the United States-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (URHP) notes that some 242 scholars, artists and journalists have been identified, among them “an alarming 61 university professors” and some 96 students. Read more.
Historians call for release of Nicaraguan professor
Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed, 01/30
The leadership of the American Historical Association wrote last week to Nicaraguan authorities urging them to release Ricardo Baltodano Marcenaro, a professor at the Universidad Politécnica de Nicaragua. The monitoring group Scholars at Risk has reported that Baltodano was detained in September “in apparent retaliation” for his participation in nationwide protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega that started last April. On Sept. 18 Baltodano was accused by the National Police of Nicaragua of terrorism, murder and other crimes. Read more.
EU team visits China’s Xinjiang region to gather evidence on re-education camps
South China Morning Post, 01/29
A European Union delegation has visited China’s far western region of Xinjiang, a rare chance to gather evidence on the re-education camps that have drawn harsh criticism from human rights groups and Western powers, officials said on Monday. The team was supervised by Chinese officials during on the three-day trip this month, but managed to gather information the EU said built on “forcing and mutually consistent” reports of rights abuses in the region. Read more.
Professor Says U Didn’t Like Her MLK Day Comments
Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 01/28
Melissa Harris-Perry, journalist and professor of political science and director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, said on Twitter that the institution invited her to leave after she criticized it during a speech honoring Martin Luther King Jr. last week. Read more.
Violence against African students undermines HE plans
Wagdy Sawahel, University World News, 01/25
Tunisia continues to witness incidents of criminally or racially motivated violent attacks on Sub-Saharan African students, which threaten the safety of the foreign academic community and undermine Tunisia’s plan for becoming an attractive African hub for education and training. Among the incidents making the news more recently was that involving Falikou Coulibaly, the president of the Association of Ivorian students in Tunisia, who was stabbed to death in the capital Tunis, on 23 December last year. Read more.
Iran is using false “confessions” to manufacture cases against detained conservationists
Center for Human Rights in Iran, 01/24
Some of the conservationists who have been imprisoned incommunicado in Iran for the past year have been forced to confess under the threat of death, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned. New details about the prolonged detentions of Houman Jowkar, Taher Ghadirian, Morad Tahbaz, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh strongly indicate that Iran’s judicial officials have been working closely with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC’s) Intelligence Organization to build cases against them based on false confessions obtained under extreme duress. Read more.
Four Sudanese killed as dozens of cities hold protests against president
Mohammed Amin, Middle East Eye, 01/24
Four Sudanese men have been killed as the country saw its most widespread protests on Thursday during more than a month of continued unrest. The Sudanese Doctors’ Committee said medical student Mahjoub al-Taj Majhoub died “after being subjected to beating and torture” while in police custody. University student Abd al-Azeem Babikir, 22, was killed “after a bullet hit him directly in the chest”, the committee said in a statement. Read more.
3-year prison sentence not deferred: ‘We gave a 2-year sentence, then increased it to 3 years’
Tansu Pişkin, Bianet, 01/24
Dr. Lecturer Yonca Demir from Bilgi University has been sentenced to 3 years in prison. The presiding judge announced the verdict saying, “We gave a two-year sentence. Then we increased it to three years. And we did not reverse the verdict.” Read more.
Campus protests spread as junta lifts ban for election
Suluck Lamubol, University World News, 01/24
Peaceful protests led by student activist groups have sprung up on university campuses across Thailand in recent weeks after the country’s military government lifted the ban on political gatherings in preparation for national elections – the first since the junta came to power in 2014 – now scheduled for 24 March. Read more.
Singapore legal challenge ‘will chill academic freedom’
Ellie Bothwell, Times Higher Education, 01/23
Academics fear that the removal of an online article that included critical comments about the country’s two leading universities following a legal challenge will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. The story, “Opaque policies, fixation with KPIs, rankings: why arts and humanities academics quit NUS, NTU”, which was published by the online newspaper Today, included interviews with several academics who had left or were planning to leave the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Read more.
Government continues crackdown on academic freedom in Hungary
Florin Zubașcu, Science|Business, 01/22
The Hungarian government is continuing its crackdown on academic freedom and has intensified attempts to put the research institutes of the Academy of Sciences under direct political control, after previously forcing the Central European University to move most of its courses from Budapest to Vienna and banning institutions in the country from offering gender studies degrees. Researchers at the academy are worried about their future, as the government is seeking more control over the research budget and is claiming the academy’s network of research institutes needs to be restructured to boost excellence in research and innovation. Read more.
Chinese Marxist students appear in ‘confession’ video as crackdown continues
James Griffiths, CNN, 01/22
China’s universities have always been a breeding ground for political activism, from the May Fourth Movement which helped lead to the Communist revolution, to the 1989 pro-democracy protests which sought to reform it. Today, however, China’s leaders have no intention of allowing students to challenge them, as a months-long crackdown against a Marxist university group demonstrates. Read more.
Prominent Saudi scholar Ahmed al-Amari dies in prison: Activists
Al Jazeera, 01/21
A prominent Saudi Imam and preacher at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina has died in prison, reportedly as a result of being held in poor conditions, activists have said. Sheikh Ahmed al-Amari, former dean of the Quran College in the Islamic University of Madinah, died on Sunday, more than five months after he was arrested, said the social media advocacy group, Prisoners of Conscience, which monitors and documents arrests of Saudi preachers and religious scholars. Read more.
New students’ platform in front line against Bashir
Wagdy Sawahel, University World News, 01/16
Sudanese university students have joined forces to form a new students’ association of unions and groups and have called for the immediate release of all detainees and the resignation of long-standing Sudanese autocrat president Omar al-Bashir. Launched on Monday, 14 January, the Sudanese Students Association (SSA) will act as a collective platform for Sudanese students to unite their efforts in the battle to topple the regime and restore rights. Read more.
Universities to ramp up security on campuses, education board says after lecturer murder
Hürriyet Daily News, 01/16
New security measures are underway for university campuses, Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK) said on Jan. 15 following the murder of a lecturer on the campus of an Ankara university earlier this month.A study to ensure the peace and security of academics was initiated and several decisions have been made,” said a statement released after a meeting on Jan. 15 of a joint commission between YÖK and the Interior Ministry. Read more.
Morocco’s crackdown won’t silence dissent
Ilhem Rachidi, Foreign Policy, 01/16
When she joined the National Union of Moroccan Students in 1978, Khadija Ryadi knew she’d face hardship. “At that time,” she recalled, “we were constantly followed by the police.” But today, she told me, life may be even harder. “Now not only are we followed but we are also listened to and photographed, and everywhere. The repression has remained, but the instruments have changed. I never feel at ease.” Read more.
Academic sentenced to 2 years, 1 month in prison; sentence not deferred
Tansu Pişkin, Bianet, 01/16
Academic M.A. has been sentenced to 2 years, 1 month in prison for “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization as a non-member.” Neither the announcement of the verdict nor the sentence has been deferred due to “absence of legal possibility.” Read more.
Brazilian academics ‘gaslighted’ in swirl of policy rumours
Rachael Pells, Times Higher Education, 01/15
Claims that Brazil’s new far-right president will force candidates for publicly funded scholarships to take an “ideology” test have provoked alarm among academics, in a sign of the anxiety gripping campuses since the installation of Jair Bolsonaro. Capes, Brazil’s federal postgraduate funding body, was forced to release a statement stating that there would be “no undertaking” of the exam. It was mooted in an article in leading newspaper O Globo, which stated that “new measures are being considered by the Ministry of Education” for the allocation of master’s and doctoral scholarships to students at home and going abroad, including an “ideological criterion”. Read more.
Rights groups demand release of Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti on fifth anniversary of arrest
Radio Free Asia, 01/15
Rights activists and Uyghur advocacy groups on Tuesday demanded the release from prison of Uyghur academic and blogger Ilham Tohti in statements marking the fifth anniversary of his arrest on charges of promoting separatism and subsequent sentencing to a life term behind bars. An outspoken economics professor who regularly highlighted the religious and cultural persecution of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Tohti was sentenced on Sept. 23, 2014 following a two-day show trial. Read more.
Matthew Hedges, former UAE detainee, demands ‘acknowledgement’ of abuse
Ali Harb, Middle East Eye, 01/15
He was detained for seven months, held in solitary confinement, had drugs forced on him and was sentenced to life in prison. Now, British academic Matthew Hedges is free – and demanding accountability. “I’m not going to let my experience and my prosecution stand,” Hedges said at an event hosted by the American Society of International Law (ASIL) in Washington on Tuesday. Read more.
Malaysian progress towards institutional autonomy slows
John Ross, Times Higher Education, 01/15
Malaysia is in a bind as its new-broom government strives to jettison the country’s stifling Universities and University Colleges Act. The Pakatan Harapan administration has made some progress in dismantling the legislation, which restricts freedom of expression and gives the government the right to appoint university leaders. Read more.
The fate of academic freedom in Thailand
Tyrell Haberkorn, East Asia Forum, 01/10
On 11 December 2018 Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha promulgated Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No. 22/2561, which ostensibly relaxed restrictions on civilian participation in politics ahead of the elections planned for February 2019. Read more.
Swedish physician/professor in very bad health in Iranian prison: 124 Nobel laureates call for his release
Committee of Concerned Scientists, 01/09
Ahmadreza Djalali, a physician and lecturer living in Sweden, was arrested while in Iran for a presentation to other medical professionals. He was accused of spying and sentenced to death. He has now been confined for 2.5 years. Read more.
A just future for #MeToo starts with supporting sexuality research
Victoria Brooks, Times Higher Education, 01/09
If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it is that if we want to change the justice system to make it fairer to and less dismissive of women, that legal reform effort must be informed by a knowledge of female sexuality gained by listening to the experiences of women. Read more.
Deferred prison sentence of 1 year, 3 months for 1 academic
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Y.A. has been sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison on charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” The announcement of the verdict has been deferred. Read more.
Iran arrests demographers, the latest target amid an escalating crackdown on academics and activists
Melissa Etehad and Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times, 01/07
Academics with foreign ties living in Iran are on alert following the arrest of a demographer whose research led her to question the country’s decision to urge people to have more children. Read more.
Sudan arrests Khartoum University lecturers amid fresh protests
Sudanese security authorities have arrested several faculty members from Khartoum University, two professors said, after they joined anti-government protests that have posed the most serious challenge to President Omar al-Bashir’s rule. Read more.
Her husband was detained in Iran. Now she’s raising their child on her own.
Jessica Schulberg, HuffPost, 01/06
One summer evening a couple years ago, Hua Qu’s son’s preschool teacher pulled her aside. Shaofan, Qu’s son, had been pretending that bad guys had locked his dad in a dungeon inside of a big castle that was guarded by scary dragon. Read more.
China targets prominent Uighur intellectuals to erase an ethnic identity
Austin Ramzy, The New York Times, 01/05
As a writer and magazine editor, Qurban Mamut promoted the culture and history of his people, the Uighurs, and that of other Turkic minority groups who live in far western China. Read more.
Celebrating academic bravery
Eric Anthony Grollman, Inside Higher Ed, 01/04
In April 2015, I spoke on a panel on intellectual activism during the Parren Mitchell Symposium at the University of Maryland. That is the professional turf of Patricia Hill Collins — foremother of black feminist theory and author of On Intellectual Activism — so you know it was a significant event. Read more.
Mother of student held over Ortega protest in global plea for help
Hannah Summers, The Guardian, 01/03
The mother of a medical student facing more than 20 years in prison for protesting against the Nicaraguan government is appealing to the international community to put pressure on president Daniel Ortega’s regime. Amaya Eva Coppens, a Belgian-Nicaraguan dual national, is due to stand trial in the capital Managua after being “abducted” in a raid by more than 30 riot police and paramilitaries on 10 September. Read more.
Scholars are at risk all around the world – and Canada needs to lead
Melanie Adrian, Viviana Fernandez, Nandini Ramanujam, and Anneke Smit, The Globe and Mail, 01/03
Just before war broke out in her home country, Syrian chemist Hanadi Ibrahim, living in France, completed her PhD research on new drugs for cancer treatment. Dr. Ibrahim had never considered herself an activist, but upon her return to Syria, she felt called to join other academics to call out the injustices and persecution of so many people in her country. Read more.
‘Hundreds’ of cultural figures caught up in China’s Uyghur persecution
Lisa Movius, The Art Newspaper, 01/02
The recent detention of the photographer Lu Guang in north-west China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has sparked a global outpouring of protest. Lu Guang, who is known for his work documenting the ecological and human devastation of development in remote regions in China, is the first cultural figure from the Han Chinese majority population to disappear into the prisons of Xinjiang. But most of the region’s Uyghur writers, artists and scholars have already been imprisoned. Read more.
British MPs, lawyers request visit to detained Saudi activists
Al Jazeera, 01/01
A cross-party group of British parliamentarians and international lawyers has asked to visit detained female activists in Saudi Arabia to investigate allegations that they are being tortured and denied legal representation and family visits. Read more.