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 06, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):University of Hargeisa

Region & Country:Eastern Africa | Somalia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 6, 2020, Professor Mahmoud Jama Ahmed, a lecturer in humanities and social sciences at the University of Hargeisa who had recently been released from prison on blasphemy charges, was forced into hiding after a cleric called for his death during Friday prayers.

Ahmed was accused of blasphemy in early 2019, after posting a message on Facebook 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. He was arrested on March 21, 2019, and convicted of blasphemy and sentenced on April 30, 2019 to two-and-a-half years in prison. He was released after ten months, on January 27, 2020, after being granted a conditional amnesty by Somalia’s president, under which he was prohibited for five years from disseminating his writings, giving public lectures, or teaching in universities (see report).

During Friday prayers on February 28, 2020, and then again on March 6, 2020, a local cleric reportedly claimed that Professor Ahmed could not repent for the sin of blasphemy, and that “killing this apostate is bad for him in this life but he will benefit from it in the afterlife.” Professor Ahmed went into hiding shortly thereafter, and, as of this report, has not been able to go out in public without the serious risk of a violent attack.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent threats against a professor in connection with the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression or religion. State authorities have a responsibility to take all available measures to investigate credible threats, prevent attacks, and otherwise ensure the safety of scholars and other individuals who are threatened in response to the exercise of their expressive and religious rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom and harm democratic society generally.