On September 2 2020, the National University of Bangladesh dismissed AKM Wahiduzzaman, an assistant professor of geography, for alleged Facebook posts published in 2013 about the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her family.
A leader of a local group supportive of the ruling party filed a complaint about the alleged posts, which, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), questioned the capabilities of the prime minister and her children, criticized the organization of an upcoming election, and suggested that relatives of the prime minister collaborated with the Pakistani military during the Liberation War of 1971.
Wahiduzzaman, a critic of the government, told HRW that he did not author the posts and that they were published under a “fake account.” Shortly thereafter, Wahiduzzaman was arrested and held in custody for a month and suspended from his position.
In March 2014, he was charged under Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act, for “publishing fake, obscene or defaming information in electronic form.” Two years later, Wahiduzzaman fled the country fearing further persecution.
In a statement announcing the dismissal in September 2020, the university cited allegations of “negligence of duty,” “misconduct,” “absconding,” and “fraud.” According to a report from Amnesty International, Wahiduzzaman claimed that he was denied an opportunity to defend himself. Amnesty’s report noted that the dismissal violated the university’s “service rules,” which require “a stay on any penalty of the university if the issue is pending trial at the court.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the dismissal of a scholar in retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against scholars for such conduct and should protect and promote academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, politically motivated dismissals aimed at restricting or retaliating against scholars’ nonviolent expressive activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.