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.
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 Alexandra Bell.
Current Action Campaigns:
Shahidul Alam, Bangladesh
Dr. Shahidul Alam is a public intellectual and acclaimed photojournalist, who was just released on bail after over one hundred days in prison. On August 5, 2018, Dr. Alam spoke on Facebook Live and Al Jazeera about the ongoing student protests in Bangladesh. Shortly after his comments went live, police officers raided Dr. Alam’s home, took him into custody, interrogated and tortured him. They then charged him under section 57 of the International Communication and Technology Act for electronically sharing material that “tends to deprave and corrupt” the public and causes “deterioration in law and order.” On November 20, Dr. Alam was released on bail; however, he still faces up to 14 years in prison based on the charges.
Amaya Eva Coppens, Nicaragua
Amaya Eva Coppens is a fifth-year medical student at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua – León, who was detained on September 10, 2018, in apparent retaliation for her participation in a nationwide protest movement. Ms. Coppens was one of the leaders of the 19th of April Student Movement, which sought democratic reforms, protested austerity measures, and called for President Daniel Ortega to step down. On September 18, a court charged Ms. Coppens with kidnapping, terrorism, and illegal possession of firearms. Ms. Coppens was then transferred to La Esperanza prison, a women’s prison located outside of Managua. On October 26, a group of 25 guard reportedly broke into the prison and beat several detained women. Ms. Coppens’ mother, Tamara Zamora, reported that she has been denied information regarding her daughter’s physical condition and well being. On November 13, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted Precautionary Measures (a mechanism to request states to secure the protection and human rights of individuals in serious danger) to several of the detained women including Ms. Coppens.
Peter Biar Ajak, South Sudan
Peter Biar Ajak is a PhD candidate at University of Cambridge and is a prominent political activist who was arrested by National Intelligence Security Service officers on July 28, 2018, and has been imprisoned in South Sudan since. Authorities have not formally charged Mr. Ajak; however, his legal counsel has been informed that Mr. Ajak’s charges relate to terrorism, treason, and the promulgation of false statements against South Sudan. The grounds of these charges remain unclear.
Rahile Dawut, China
In December 2017, Professor Rahile Dawut, a world renowned scholar of Uyghur studies, disappeared and is suspected of being held by state authorities in an undisclosed location. State authorities have not provided public information about Dawut’s whereabouts, well-being, access to legal counsel, or any charges against her. She is suspected to be in a re-education camp, where tens of thousands of Uyghur scholars are being detained.
Hatoon al-Fassi, Saudi Arabia
Between June 22 and 24, Saudi authorities detained Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi, a women’s rights activist and associate professor of women’s history at King Saud University, in apparent retaliation for her women’s rights activism. Dr. al-Fassi was a prominent activist in the movement to lift the ban on women’s right to drive. Since May 2018, Saudi authorities began to detain women’s rights defenders and accused them of having suspicious contacts with, and providing support to “foreign entities,” without evidence. Public information regarding Dr. al-Fassi’s status, location, court date, specific charges, and whether she has legal counsel, is unavailable.
Xiyue Wang, Iran
On August 8, 2016, Iranian authorities arrested Xiyue Wang, a PhD candidate at Princeton University, in connection with research he was conducting in Iran for his doctoral dissertation. Mr. Wang, who holds US citizenship, specializes in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history. In May 2016, he travelled to Iran to research the Qajar dynasty for his dissertation and to continue his language studies. After receiving government approval of his research, Mr. Wang gained access to public documents dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries at archives and libraries in Tehran. Authorities arrested Mr. Wang shortly before his scheduled departure from Iran in August 2016. Nearly one year later, Mr. Wang was convicted and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for “infiltration,” based on allegations that Mr. Wang had “gathered secret and top secret [intelligence]” for foreign government entities. Mr. Wang’s family and Princeton University officials have rebutted these claims, insisting that he has no connections to government or intelligence agencies and that he only traveled to Iran as a part of his studies. Mr. Wang is currently being held at Evin Prison, where he has reported difficult conditions; deteriorating health, including arthritis and diarrhea; and violent threats against his life by a fellow inmate.
Group of Thai Conference Attendees, Thailand
On August 14, 2017, five academics in Thailand were summoned to report to police authorities, apparently based on their attendance at an academic conference, and for expression during that conference. Authorities accused them of violating Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558, which bans political gatherings of five or more persons. If convicted, they are subject to imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to 10,000 baht (roughly USD $300), or both. The five academics include conference organizer Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Associate Professor and Director, Regional Center for Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University; Chaipong Samnieng, Ph.D. Candidate and Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Chiang Mai University; Teeramon Buangam, M.A. Candidate, Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University, and Editor, Prachaham News; Nontawat Machai, undergraduate student, Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University; and Pakavadi Veerapaspong, independent writer and translator.
Abdulqadir Jalaleddin, China
On January 29, 2018, police reportedly raided Professor Jalaleddin’s home and took him into custody. According to a local official, authorities brought him to a “political re-education camp” in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. No charges against Prof. Jalaleddin have been made public. He reportedly remains in detention without access to family or legal counsel.
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. On January 6, 2018, Mr. Alexandrani’s legal team was informed that his case had been transferred to the military public prosecutor but that no hearing date had been set.
Khalil Al-Halwachi, Bahrain
Khalil Al-Halwachi is an engineer and instructor who was arrested on September 3, 2014, in a raid on his home. On March 23, 2017—after more than two and half years in custody and over 20 postponements—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.” Professor Al-Halwachi has maintained that evidence of the weapon was fabricated and that he was prosecuted in retaliation for his peaceful activism. While imprisoned, he has reportedly experienced ongoing inhumane treatment and deteriorating health. He is scheduled to return to court on February 5, 2018, to appeal the conviction and sentencing.
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 a 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 relating to crimes against the national security of Iran. On October 21, 2017, it was announced that Iran’s revolutionary court had sentenced Dr. Djalali to death on espionage-related charges, and on December 9, 2017, his family learned that the Supreme Court of Iran had confirmed the death sentence. On February 5, 2018, a branch of Iran’s Supreme Court declined to review the death sentence issued against Dr. Djalali. Dr. Djalali’s lawyers are trying to transfer the case to another branch. Dr. Djalali maintains that his ties to the international academic community are the bases of his prosecution. He remains in Evin Prison, where his health is deteriorating rapidly.
Santiago Guevara, Venezuela
On February 21, 2017, Professor Santiago Guevara, a prominent economist at the University of Carabobo, was arrested following the publication of opinion pieces he had written in which he commented on economic conditions and political unrest in Venezuela. He was brought before a military court and charged with “treason,” “incitement to rebellion,” and crimes against the “security and independence of the nation.” After ten months of detention, he was released on December 23, 2017, having lost approximately 25 kilos. The criminal charges against him remain, and no date has been set for his initial hearing.
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.
Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba, India
Professor Saibaba, a scholar of English literature and a human rights activist, was arrested on May 9, 2014 for alleged connections to the Communist Party of India and on March 7, 2017, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison despite a lack of credible evidence. His health has deteriorated since his arrest and requires urgent medical care for post-polio syndrome, acute pancreatitis, and impacted gall bladder-stones, among other issues. He remains in solitary confinement in a cell that offers no protection from the weather, which aggravates his health problems. Reports indicate that he has been mistreated and denied medication and access to proper medical treatment while in prison.
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.”