Academic Freedom Media Review

March 27 – April 02, 2020

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.

Unless otherwise indicated (such as in articles written by SAR), the language and views contained in the reports below reflect those of the originating author and/or publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Scholars at Risk or its members, affiliates, board or staff. Subscribe to SAR’s media review.

World-renowned scientists express support for Bülent Şık
Bianet, 04/02
Over 600 world-renowned scientists, including Nobel laureates, have condemned the 15-month prison sentence given to bianet columnist, food engineer Asst. Prof. Bülent Şık for sharing the results of cancer research with the public. Read more.

US war on science ‘undermining war on coronavirus’
John Ross, Times Higher Education, 04/02
Derision of expertise has been concentrated in the US – but that’s where it matters most. The US administration’s war on expertise is imperilling the country’s people and jeopardising the global fight against Covid-19, according to former Australian chief scientist Penny Sackett. Read more.

The Coronavirus pandemic and the rise of Chinese civil society
Willy Wo-Lap Lam, The Jamestown Foundation, 04/01
On the surface, Chinese civil society actors—led by intellectuals, rights lawyers, and underground churchgoers—are being suppressed by draconian means. Yet, a number of brave activists have defied the censorship and oppression to have their voices heard. Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun and a dozen-odd public intellectuals published a net-based appeal stating that “Freedom of expression starts today.” Apart from demanding proper treatment of victims of the pandemic, the petitioners asked for the establishment of a Dr. Li Wenliang Day, and a National Freedom of Expression Day. Read more.

Outrage over denial of amnesty for Turkish political prisoners
Bethan McKernan and Beril Eski, The Guardian, 03/31
Anger is growing in Turkey that while the government is preparing to grant amnesties to up to one third of the country’s prison population in order to combat the coronavirus pandemic, jailed human rights activists, journalists and opposition politicians will not be among those considered for early release. Read more.

Bangladesh: End wave of COVID-19 ‘rumor’ arrests
Human Rights Watch, 03/31
The Bangladesh government appears to be cracking down on free speech as COVID-19 hits the country, silencing concerns over the government’s handling of the epidemic, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should stop targeting academics and arresting people for speaking out about the epidemic, and ensure that accurate and timely information about the virus is accessible and available to all. Since mid-March 2020, authorities have apparently arrested at least a dozen people, including a doctor, opposition activists, and students, for their comments about coronavirus, most of them under the draconian Digital Security Act. Read more.

Ranking academic freedom globally
Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Education, 03/30
Comparative data on academic freedom has been hard to come by, but a new index released Thursday assigns ratings to countries based on how free scholars are to teach and research. The index relies on expert assessments of five measures related to freedom to research and teach, freedom of academic exchange and dissemination, institutional autonomy, campus integrity (defined as the degree to which campuses are free from politically motivated surveillance or security-related infringements), and freedom of academic, cultural and political expression. Read more.

Coronavirus crisis awakens a sleeping giant: China’s youth
Vivian Wang and Javier C. Hernández, The New York Times, 03/28
Students have flooded social media to organize donations for Chinese doctors battling the coronavirus epidemic. Workers have marched in the streets to demand compensation for weeks of unemployment during citywide lockdowns. Young citizen journalists have taken to YouTube to call for free speech. Read more.

Union opposes online classes as ‘violation of equality’
Wagdy Sawahel, University World News, 03/26
In a statement on 22 March, the General Tunisian Union of Students (UGET) rejected the proposal of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to deliver university and other educational courses through online learning as a violation of the principle of equality and equal opportunity because not all students have personal computers, tablets, smartphones or reliable internet access. Read more.