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: March 21, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Hargeisa

Region & Country:Eastern Africa | Somalia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 21, 2019, Professor Mahmoud Jama Ahmed, a lecturer in humanities and social sciences at the University of Hargeisa, was arrested for blasphemy based on a Facebook post. He was later convicted of the crime, sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, and in January 2020, after serving a partial sentence, was released subject to severe restrictions on his academic activity.

In early 2019, Ahmed posted a Facebook message suggesting that, in response to droughts, Somalis should look to the scientific approach of what he called “advanced societies,” such as the United States and Europe, instead of relying on prayer. Shortly thereafter, he reportedly began receiving death threats. 

Authorities arrested and charged Ahmed with blasphemy on March 21, 2019. He was convicted of that crime and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison on April 30, 2019.

On January 27, 2020, Somalia’s president granted Ahmed a conditional amnesty. He was released from prison subject to conditions including a five-year prohibition from disseminating his writings, giving public lectures, or teaching in universities. 

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest, detention, and prosecution of a scholar in connection with the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression or religion. SAR is likewise concerned by additional restrictions on the scholar’s academic activity in connection with the same expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom, erode university autonomy, and harm democratic society generally.