Scholars at Risk coordinates advocacy activities on behalf of scholars and students under threat—such as those suffering prosecution on improper or false charges or those wrongfully imprisoned—as well as against widespread threats to an entire faculty, university, or system.
SAR invites everyone to participate in these efforts: Sign a letter of appeal to key stakeholders, raise awareness about these cases through social media campaigns, and hold events on campus to show solidarity.
SAR has selected the below campaigns based on information available as well as available opportunities to engage with key stakeholders. In addition to these campaigns, SAR issues letters of appeal for urgent, breaking attacks against individual scholars, students, and higher education communities. For a complete list of advocacy campaigns and imprisoned scholars, please click here.
To receive updates on the below cases as well as additional advocacy opportunities, subscribe to our Action Alerts, and to provide case updates or inquire about any of the below cases, please email Daniel Munier.
Current Action Campaigns:
Academics in Turkey
Since January 2016, more than 7,500 higher education personnel have been targeted directly in Turkey, and over 60,000 higher education scholars, administrators, and students have been materially affected by government and institutional actions. These escalating attacks on scholars in Turkey began with the persecution by the Turkish government of “Academics for Peace,” who in January 2016 signed a peace petition calling for a renewal of dialogue with factions in southeastern Turkey. In response to this crackdown, Scholars at Risk coordinated a joint letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which resulted in a subsequent exchange with Turkey’s Minister of National Education, Nabi Avci. Following the July 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey, the Council of Higher Education in Turkey then demanded the resignation of over 1,500 university deans and 15,000 education ministry officials. In response to this purge, Scholars at Risk issued a statement urging expressions of support for Turkey’s threatened higher education sector. Subsequent emergency decrees and government actions have resulted in prolonged detentions, prosecutions, dismissals, and travel restrictions affecting thousands of higher education professionals. On July 13, 2017, SAR issued a letter brief to authorities in Turkey, outlining the concerning effects of the purge on Turkey’s higher education sector and calling for a reversal of these attacks. For more information about the latest attacks on Turkey’s higher education sector, including a list of ways to support scholars in Turkey, click here.
Ismail Alexandrani, Egypt
On November 29, 2015, researcher and journalist Ismail Alexandrani was detained by Egyptian authorities, interrogated upon returning to Egypt from Germany. Mr. Alexandrani has publicly criticized the Egyptian government, including its counter-terrorism policies in the Sinai. At the time he was detained, security agents reportedly took him into custody, confiscated his passport, and questioned him for several hours, before transferring him to a Homeland Security facility in Cairo. After 15 days of pre-trial detention, Mr. Alexandrani was charged with belonging to a terrorist organization and spreading false information liable to alarm people, disturb public security, and damage public interests. After nearly a year of pre-trial detention, a court ordered for his release on November 20, 2016; however, the decision was appealed and Mr. Alexandrani remains in pre-trial detention. He was remanded into custody for a further 45 days on June 20, 2017.
Khalil Al-Halwachi, Bahrain
Khalil Al-Halwachi is an engineer and instructor who was arrested without warrant in September 2014 and reportedly interrogated regarding his former association with a political group. Authorities did not hold a hearing until March 22, 2015; however, Professor Al-Halwachi refused to attend in protest. Despite his absence, the court proceeded in charging him with alleged possession of a weapon. The trial has since been postponed 20 times. SAR understands that Professor Al-Halwachi’s health is deteriorating, and in September 2016 reportedly suffered a stroke. On March 23, 2017, a court ruled to convict and sentence Professor Al-Halwachi to ten years in prison on charges of “possession of a weapon” and “insulting the judiciary;” the latter reportedly relates to legal concerns Professor Al-Halwachi raised at a previous trial.
Abdul Jalil Al-Singace, Bahrain
Former professor of mechanical engineering Abdul Jalil Al-Singace is serving a life prison sentence on allegations stemming from his exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of association. Professor Al-Singace is one of 13 Bahraini human rights activists, opposition leaders and bloggers arrested between March and April 2011 in apparent connection with their role in the national uprising. In January 2016, Professor Al-Singace ended a 313-day hunger strike in protest of the ill treatment of Bahrain’s prisoners of conscience, including himself. His family reports that he continues to suffer from severe health complications and, further, that he has been regularly denied access to proper medical care.
Hamid Babaei, Iran
Doctoral student of finance Hamid Babaei is serving six-year prison sentence for allegedly “acting against national security by communicating with a hostile government.” The primary piece of evidence used by the authorities to support this charge has been the scholarship funding Mr. Babaei received from the University of Liege as a PhD student. SAR is concerned about the lack of proper substantiation for these charges and the authorities’ sentencing as apparent retaliation for Mr. Babaei’s refusal to spy on Iranian students in Belgium.
Nasser bin Ghaith, United Arab Emirates
Economist Nasser bin Ghaith was arrested on August 18, 2015, and has since been charged with “committing a hostile act against a foreign state” and “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the state and one of its institutions.” The charges apparently relate to a series of tweets by him that reportedly criticized the Egyptian regime, an ally of the UAE, for failing to hold anyone accountable for the 2013 Raba’a Square Massacre in Cairo, as well as tweets claiming that he had not been granted a fair trial as part of the “UAE5” case. On March 29, 2017, Dr. bin Ghaith was convicted by the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals and sentenced to ten years in prison.
On December 2, 2016, law student and activist Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa posted a BBC Thai article about King Rama X on his Facebook account. Authorities arrested him the following day, charging him under Article 112 with lèse majesté, marking the first instance of a student detained in connection with such a charge since the new king’s ascension. He was released on bail the day after his arrest, but was re-arrested and his bail revoked on December 22, after he posted additional Facebook comments regarding his arrest and prosecution. Mr. Boonpattararaksa’s subsequent requests for bail were denied ten times. Following more than seven months of detention, Mr. Boonpattararaksa pleaded guilty to the charges against him on August 15, 2017. The court sentenced him to five years in prison, a term which was then reduced to two and a half years. Mr. Boonpattararaksa’s sentence puts his academic and professional future at great risk.
Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian scholar of disaster medicine, was arrested in April 2016 while visiting Iran to participate in a series of academic workshops. He has been detained in Evin Prison, and was reportedly held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer until December 2016. On February 1, 2017, Dr. Djalali informed his sister that he had been forced to sign a confession, which reportedly relates to crimes against the national security of Iran. He has reportedly been threatened with the charge of “moharebeh” (enmity against God), which carries the death sentence. His trial was scheduled for August 2, 2017, but it has been postponed and no new date has been set.
Bekele Gerba, Ethiopia
On December 23, 2015, Ethiopian security forces arrested Bekele Gerba, a foreign language professor at Addis Ababa University and the deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress. Professor Gerba’s arrest occurred against a backdrop of growing clashes between the Ethiopian government and supporters of the rights of the Oromo minority, over a government development plan which protesters allege would lead to large-scale eviction of Oromo people. According to reports, Professor Gerba is being held incommunicado, is in deteriorating health, and his family members have been denied visitation. On July 13, 2017, the charges against him were reduced from terrorism charges to crime charges.
Merera Gudina, Ethiopia
On December 1, 2016, Dr. Merera Gudina, a former political science professor at Addis Ababa University, returned to Ethiopia from Belgium after addressing members of the European Union Parliament about human rights violations and the political crisis in Ethiopia. That day, Ethiopian security officers arrested him for “trespassing the state of emergency rules of the country,” and brought him to Maekelawi Prison, where he was reportedly placed in solitary confinement. Since his December 2016 arrest, Dr. Gudina has been formally charged with violating several articles of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s Criminal Code, including accusations that he attempted to overthrow Ethiopia’s constitutional order. Dr. Gudina has refuted all the charges brought against him in court. His most recent hearing was scheduled for July 7, 2017.
Santiago Guevara, Venezuela
On February 21, 2017, Professor Santiago Guevara, a prominent economist at the University of Carabobo, was arrested following a Spanish newspaper’s publication of opinion pieces he had written in which he commented on economic conditions and political unrest in Venezuela. Two days after his arrest, he was reportedly brought before a military court and charged with “treason,” “incitement to rebellion,” and crimes against the “security and independence of the nation.” Since his arrest, he has reportedly not had access to critical medications, sunlight, or proper nourishment.
Omid Kokabee, Iran
Doctoral student of physics Omid Kokabee has served part of a ten-year prison sentence on charges of “communicating with a hostile government.” Mr. Kokabee, who holds two advanced degrees in physics and is an accomplished experimental laser physicist and doctoral student at the University of Texas, Austin, was arrested at Tehran Airport on January 30, 2011 after visiting his parents over the winter break. Before his arrest, Mr. Kokabee reportedly refused an offer by state scientists to work on military research for the Iranian government. In May 2016, Mr. Kokabee was granted temporary medical leave from prison due to his recent treatment for kidney cancer. On August 29, 2016, Iranian authorities granted Mr. Kokabee parole. While he is now free to leave the country, authorities may revoke his parole, which would require him to serve the remaining three years of his sentence. SAR thanks everyone who submitted a letter of appeal on Mr. Kokabee’s behalf and will continue monitoring his situation.
Maâti Monjib, Morocco
Historian and journalist Maâti Monjib is scheduled to stand trial on October 11, 2017 on charges of “threatening the internal security of the State.” In September 2015, Professor Monjib was subjected to a travel ban after he was prevented from leaving Morocco to attend a conference on political change in Spain. In response to the travel ban, Professor Monjib began a hunger strike that lasted until October 29, 2015, when the ban was reportedly lifted. While awaiting trial, Professor Monjib has remained active in academia, journalism, and peaceful activism.
Mohammad Hossein Rafiee, Iran
Retired scholar of chemistry Mohammad Hossein Rafiee has served part of a six-year prison sentence on charges of “membership of an illegal and anti-national security group,” “propaganda against the regime,” and “the use of television satellite equipment.” Professor Rafiee and his colleagues report that this and past pressures and attempts to arrest him are a result of his defense of the Iran nuclear deal. On September 18, 2016, Professor Rafiee’s family reported that he was granted one month medical leave. It is unclear whether authorities will extend his leave or adjust his sentence. SAR thanks everyone who submitted a letter of appeal on Professor Rafiee’s behalf and will continue monitoring his situation.
Ilham Tohti, China
Public intellectual and economics professor Ilham Tohti is serving a life prison sentence on charges of “separatism” as a result of his peaceful expression and activism pertaining to minority rights in China. Professor Tohti was arrested on January 15, 2014 and held incommunicado for nearly six months. In September 2014, he underwent a closed-door trial, at which he rejected the charges, stating, “There is nothing wrong with voicing one’s thoughts. And there is nothing wrong with doing academic research.”