Courage to Think Award

The Courage to Think Award recognizes individuals, groups, or institutions that have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to protecting scholars and promoting academic freedom, whether through their professional work, private or community service, or by facing personal risk.

Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali

Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali is the recipient of the 2021 Courage to Think Award. Dr. Djalali, a prominent scholar of disaster medicine sentenced to death in Iran, is being recognized for his struggle for academic freedom and connection to the international academic community. Dr. Djalali’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, will accept the award on Dr. Djalali’s behalf at SAR’s virtual symposium, Free to Think 2021, on December 9. Information and registration for the free online event are available here.

Nomination Guidelines

SAR is currently not seeking nominations for the 2022 Courage to Think Award

  • Nominations may recognize individuals, groups, or institutions
  • Nominations with the support of Scholars at Risk Sections will be given the strongest consideration; however, nominations may also be submitted by individuals or organizations
  • Incomplete nominations will not be considered

Past recipients

Dr. Rahile Dawut

Rahile by Lisa Ross

In 2020, Dr. Rahile Dawut was recognized in absentia for her own work, as well as that of all the scholars and students of Xinjiang, China, who together struggle for academic freedom and freedom of opinion, expression, belief, association, and movement.

Dr. Dawut is an Associate Professor in the Human Science Institute of Xinjiang University (XU) and founder of the Minorities Folklore Research Center in XU. In December 2017, Dr. Dawut told a relative of her plans to travel from Urumqi to Beijing. Shortly thereafter, her family and friends lost contact with her. Professor Dawut’s disappearance was made public in August 2018. It is suspected that she is held by state authorities at an undisclosed location.

The award was presented during SAR’s virtual conference Free to Think 2020: Responding to Attacks on Higher Education. Dr. Dawut’s daughter, Akida Pulat, accepted the award on her mother’s behalf (see here).

Academics for Peace

In 2018,  Turkey’s Academics for Peace (Barış İçin Akademisyenler) were recognized for their extraordinary efforts in building academic solidarity and in promoting the principles of academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, and the peaceful exchange of ideas.

Academics for Peace built solidarity among scholars inside and outside of Turkey, shared vital information, and organized material support for colleagues who lost their academic positions, their livelihoods, and, in some cases, their liberty, in retaliation for peaceful, expressive activity. The award recognized Academics for Peace’s solidarity work and the pressures on all scholars, students, and higher education institutions in and from Turkey.

The award was presented at the SAR Network 2018 Global Congress: The University and the Future of Democracy, and accepted on behalf of the group by Muzaffer Kaya, of Technische Universität Berlin, and Tebessüm Yılmaz, of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (see here).

Imprisoned scholars and students in Egypt

2016 Courage to Think Defender Award

In 2016, over 600 wrongfully imprisoned scholars and students in Egypt were recognized in absentia for their struggle for academic freedom.

Over the past several years, SAR observed an overwhelming crackdown on Egypt’s higher education community, including the reported use of violence, wrongful prosecutions and imprisonment, professional retaliation, and travel restrictions against scholars and students across the country.

The award was presented at the 2016 SAR Network Global Congress: Universities in a Dangerous World and accepted on their behalf by Student Advocacy Seminar participants from Carleton University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Roger Williams University, and the University of Iowa (see here).

Dean Habib Kazdaghli

In 2014, Dean Habib Kazdaghli of Manouba University, Tunisia, was awarded for defending his university from extremist pressures after the Arab Spring, including in the face of prosecution and death threats.

Dean Kazdaghli is a historian with a focus on contemporary minority rights and became a target of extremists. In 2012, two students forcibly entered Dr. Kazdaghli’s office and began to vandalize it. Once Dean Kazdaghli reported the incident to the police, one of the students called an ambulance, claiming that Dr. Kazdaghli had slapped her. Dr. Kazdaghli denied the allegation and filed a complaint with authorities. The student then filed her own charges against Dr. Kazdaghli and he was charged with “violence perpetrated by a civil servant in the course of his duties.”

The award was presented at the 2014 SAR Network Global Congress (see here).

Aryeh Neier

In 2011, Aryeh Neier was recognized for his leadership during a career dedicated to promoting intellectual freedom and human rights.

Mr. Neier is president emeritus of the Open Society Foundations. Before that, he co-founded and served as the Executive Director at Human Rights Watch. Mr. Neier also worked at American Civil Liberties Union and taught at several higher education institutions, including New York University, University of Siena, Georgetown University Law School, and the Paris School of International Affairs of Sciences Po.

The award was presented at the 2011 Celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the SAR Network.