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: June 10, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Pakistan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 10, Pakistani authorities arrested Shah Abdul Latif University professor Sajid Soomro on a charge of blasphemy.

Soomro is a professor in the Sindhi language department at SALU as well as a writer known for his works on the Sindhi and Mohajir ethnic communities.

Dozens of police reportedly arrested Soomro at his home in the city of Khairpur. He was then brought in for processing and to be tested for COVID-19, a novel coronavirus disease spread around the world.

According to the Express Tribune, a first information report (FIR) filed by a police officer accused Soomro of “spreading religious hatred” and having “spoken against Islamic seminaries.” One police officer told Deutsche Welle that “Sajid has written things critical of seminaries, religious beliefs, the concept of heaven and polygamy. He has also criticized Pakistan. Therefore, he has been registered under the relevant sections of the law.” Soomro’s lawyer told the Express Tribune that his client had not committed any crimes listed in the FIR.

While the official evidentiary basis for the arrest is unclear, Soomro commented in a video taken shortly before his arrest that he was sought after for a post he wrote on Sufism, a mystical form of Islam.

According to multiple accounts on Twitter, authorities released Soomro on bail on June 16. It is unclear whether he continues to face charges.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arbitrary arrest of a scholar in apparent connection with expressive activity — conduct that is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliating against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, arrest intended to punish expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.