On May 5, 2013, Prof. Sivasankar Manikandan, a lecturer in the Department of Media and Communication at the Dubai campus of Manipal University (which is headquartered in Manipal, Karnataka, India) was arrested in Dubai and charged with defamation, in connection with statements he made in his personal blog about Manipal University.
Professor Manikandan, who had been a lecturer at the Dubai campus since August 2008, was terminated in January 2012. Professor Manikandan alleged that the termination was without cause, while university officials claimed that it was part of a structural reorganization. Shortly after he was terminated, he successfully challenged his dismissal in a Dubai court, securing monetary compensation for end-of-service benefits. Complaining that the manner of his dismissal had constituted a human rights violation, Professor Manikandan later filed a human rights action against the university in an Indian court. He also wrote about his experiences with the case, and about the university’s Dubai campus more generally, on his blog.
Professor Manikandan was arrested upon returning to Dubai from a trip to the United States, after a fellow employee of Manipal University filed a defamation complaint against him for statements made in his blog. He was held by police for 15 hours before he was granted bail. As of this report, the case against Professor Manikandan has not been resolved.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of criminal defamation actions against scholars in retaliation for their exercise of protected rights such as freedom of expression, and public statements regarding the institutions in which they have worked. Even when such actions do not involve long term imprisonment, they can impose significant emotional, professional and financial costs on defendants, chill academic freedom generally and undermine research, publication and teaching. SAR urges state and higher education officials to examine defamation laws and practices in their jurisdictions to ensure consistency with internationally recognized rights of free inquiry, free expression and academic freedom.