On October 3, 2016 Polish authorities detained Ameer Alkhawlany, an Iraqi PhD student in the biology department at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, reportedly based on unspecified allegations that he is a threat to public order and security. Alkhawlany faces potential deportation to Iraq.
At the time of his arrest, Alkhawlany had been enrolled as an international student at Jagiellonian University for more than two years; he had completed a master’s program and begun working toward his PhD earlier in 2016. His visa had reportedly been extended in September 2016.
On October 3, Alkhawlany was arrested on the streets of Krakow by immigration officials. Later that day, he appeared before the court of first instance (Sąd Rejonowy dla Krakowa- Krowodrzy) in Krakow, which ordered that he be remanded to an immigration detention center in Przemyśl. During the court proceedings, Alkhawlany was reportedly not informed of the allegations against him, and no evidence was presented; in addition, he was reportedly not informed of his right to legal assistance. Poland’s recently enacted anti-Terrorism law reportedly mandates that both material evidence, and the specific charges, remain secret – even from the defendant and his attorney. The court’s decision did allege that Alkhawlany may constitute a threat to national security.
On October 21, a court of second instance in Krakow extended Mr. Alkhawlany’s detention to three months, leaving open the possibility of his deportation to Iraq. As of this report, the specific allegations or evidence, if any, against Alkhawlany, remain unclear.
According to Alkhawlany, in July 2016, around the time he applied for an extension of his Polish visa, he was approached by members of Poland’s Internal Security Agency, who, during multiple meetings, asked him to infiltrate the Muslim community in Krakow and Warsaw, and later suggested that the decision on his visa application might depend on his willingness to cooperate. He nevertheless refused to do so. Alkhawlany has reported that, following his arrest, he was approached in the detention center by the same Internal Security agents, who informed him that his failure to cooperate with them might now lead to his deportation.
Alkhawlany has applied for asylum. The Office for Foreigners in Przemyśl heard his case on November 7, 2016, and now has six months to issue a decision.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about arbitrary imprisonment and apparent prosecution of a scholar. While State authorities have a right to maintain order and respond to legitimate security concerns, such actions must comply with States’ human rights obligations, including those relating to freedom of association, due process, and academic freedom, which are protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Poland is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.