2021

Annual Report

Scholar Story

Sara Fernandez

COLUMBIA | My country Colombia is going through a very difficult time, stuck in a historical and complex internal conflict. Abuse of power by the current government is an ongoing risk for academics and academic activities, especially in the public sphere. The financing of education has fallen dramatically, and with the pandemic we have regressed in terms of social indicators. I fear we will not be able to recover soon.

In spite of these fears, SAR has allowed me—from the safety of my host country—to continue my academic and activist work in Colombia, keeping me safe, secure, and alive. My host university does not interfere in my work or my schedule and since I am able to work autonomously, I can focus and decide the timing and activities I want to take on, as well as the work products that I hope to generate during my stay here. My work matters because it is linked to many people, networks, and groups and contributes to the defense of human rights and especially, to improving the lives of women and sexual dissidents.

For those academics who find themselves in similar situations, I would urge you to contact SAR and similar networks and present your case. Do it quickly, share the information and consult possible outlets with international organizations that can work with SAR. The anguish and despair that one feels when one is at risk or threatened can be paralyzing. You have to keep moving and seek support, and SAR can help to provide this support as well as other options and resources.

I will never forget when I arrived at my host campus during one of the worst winters of the last 25 years, in the middle of the pandemic, alone, away from my family, my home, and everything I love most. SAR reached out to me and was concerned for my well being and for how I was adapting to another city, another language, and another world. That single communication, that single call was so important to me. My tutor said, “the most important thing is that—you are alive and you are safe. Now to recover. And please, do not lose the joy.”

Scholar Story

Valentin Migabo

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO | The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is still struggling to adopt democratic principles. In recent decades, leaders have stepped up actions that undermine freedom in an attempt to muzzle the opposition and avoid prosecution for crimes in which they are directly or indirectly involved. Academics are not spared in these actions. They are targeted by the authorities in an attempt to silence them or to stifle investigations. My research on victims of the massacres in eastern DRC made me a target and required me to make a choice between abandoning my study and submitting to censorship, or disappearing.

I arrived at this decision after several arrests by the intelligence services, searches of my residence, seizures and destruction of my manuscripts including phones, computers, and cameras used for data collection. There is no protection for researchers in the DRC, and I was no exception. My fellow academic colleagues and academic authorities were even called upon to hunt me down. The growing threats were unsettling and I was ultimately forced to go underground. Because of this, I often had to resort to the use of other researchers to help with the data collection for my study, the results of which I was unable to publish.

Thanks to SAR and its partners University of Québec at Montreal (UQAM) and McGill University, I found a reason to smile again. Today, I work peacefully in Canada and my work is published in international journals. To my fellow academics who find themselves in situations similar to mine, I urge you to stand strong, to know that there is life after experiencing such hardships and threats, and to join the SAR network.

I can never forget the commitment, empathy, sacrifice, generosity, and effort provided by Scholars At Risk, and through SAR, UQAM, and McGill University. I owe my continued development to these institutions.

Scholar Story

Raha Sabet

IRAN | As a member of and advocate for the Baha’i community in Iran, I was deprived of higher education by the Islamic Revolution. The Intelligence Protection Organization (IPO) of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested me because of my social activism in disadvantaged areas in my city, Shiraz. They accused and imprisoned me as a Baha’i activist.

After spending four years in solitary confinement, I left Iran for India where I continued to pursue academic study and research opportunities. I finished my PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of Pune and returned to Iran, hoping to find an academic position in my field or with a non-governmental organization focused on empowering women, educating children, and national social welfare. At first, Tehran University accepted my application, but then I was informed that because I am Baha’i, I could not work with Iranian universities or other educational institutions.

Being subjected to deprivation, persecution, and exclusion from social and economic life has been extremely painful, but I have never given up. I have tried to find a way to share my knowledge, research, and experiences with those who might benefit from them.

I have done so by writing articles in various national and international publications, through presentations at conferences, and through my work with various organizations that seek to promote education, peace, and justice. I am deeply grateful to SAR for opening doors when I needed help, for aiding in my integration into the academic world at University of Oslo—my host university—and for assisting me in understanding how the academic world works.

Scholar Story

Majid Mgamis

JORDAN | Religious authoritarianism has deeply affected my career as an academic. My teaching and academic research explore religious and societal values that the authoritarian conservative mindset in Jordan, my home country, deems untouchable. Hence, I have been accused of blasphemy by students, colleagues, and the broader local community. The accusations have escalated on social media. Consequently, for over six years, I have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, threats of violence and prosecution, censorship, and disciplinary actions, which ultimately led to the loss of my academic position. 

As I was unable to pursue my academic career in my home country, SAR thankfully offered me the opportunity to pursue my work abroad. They have offered a healthy and friendly academic environment where I am able to broach new professional and cultural territories. It is absolutely essential that organizations like SAR exist to protect scholars from the grave threats they are exposed to. From my point of view, what SAR has done for me is a sort of “academic resurrection.” 

Authoritarian antagonism towards academia is not a novel phenomenon, but has been there since the days of Socrates. However, scholars should never waive their right to academic freedom despite potential dangers. Their resilience and determination will contribute to fostering a culture of critical thinking which is seminal to the development of human civilization. Certainly, this is not an easy task, but it is not impossible.

Scholar Story

Hazel Baskoy

TURKEY | In 2016, I was a PhD student in economics and had been working as a research assistant in Turkey for eight years. In January of that year, as a member of the Academics for Peace Initiative and as a human rights defender advocating for justice, I was part of a group of 1,128 signatories of a petition calling for peace and an end to violence in the southeast region of Turkey. 

Since then, and due in part to the topic of my thesis, I found myself subject to several investigations and lawsuits by university and state authorities on alleged charges of terrorism. At first, my doctoral studies were blocked. This led to the subsequent loss of my university position by government decree. Among other restrictions, I was barred from continued studies and future employment in Turkey. With no opportunities, I was forced to leave the country to continue my academic studies in Germany.

SAR has helped me so much in continuing my academic life, by helping me document my situation, organizing events, and in many other ways. Thanks to SAR and my host university, I have been able to continue my academic studies. I will never forget SAR’s and Potsdam University’s support.