SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 01, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Karachi

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Pakistan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 1, 2017, Pakistani authorities reportedly detained two scholars and a student leader in connection with a press conference organized to protest the imprisonment of retired scholar-activist Dr. Hasan Zafar Arif. One of the scholars, Riaz Ahmed, remains in custody on charges of “possessing an illegal weapon.”

A group of  current and former scholars and students from the University of Karachi reportedly gathered to deliver a press conference to address medical concerns faced by Dr. Arif, whose health has reportedly deteriorated during his time in prison. Shortly before the afternoon press conference, Professor Riaz Ahmed , a scholar of applied chemistry, Dr. Mehar Afroze Murad, a retired scholar of history, and Naghma Iqtidar Sheikh, president of the Democratic Students Federation, were reportedly arrested by Pakistani armed forces outside the Karachi Press Club. A judge ordered the release of Dr. Murad and Ms. Sheikh later that night, while Professor Riaz was ordered the next day to remain in custody for 14 days while he is under investigation for “possessing an illegal weapon,” which Rangers claimed that they had found in his car.  

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention and arrest of scholars and a student, apparently intended to preventing the peaceful exercise of the rights to free expression and association — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Detentions and arrests intended to restrict such conduct undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression, free association, due process, and fair trial.

Update: On April 6, 2017, authorities released Professor Riaz on bail of Rs 50,000 (approximately $777 USD).