On December 16, 2020, Dr. Ahmed al-Sharifi, a professor at Al-Manara University College in the Iraqi city of Amara, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen.
The gunmen fled the scene, and a motive for the killing was not publicly reported. However, authorities indicated that the attack was a targeted act, and expressed grave concern about the safety of other members of the higher education community in the area. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights issued a statement in response to the assassination warning of a possible “series of assassinations” of Iraqi scholars, and demanded that the government pass legislation to protect them. The Commission further warned that if the state fails to protect its scholars, many of them will likely flee the country out of fear for their safety. Attacks on bloggers, activists, and cultural personnel have been reported recently in Iraq.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about a targeted, violent attack on a scholar and offers condolences to the victim’s family, friends, and colleagues. In addition to the terrible loss of life, such attacks target the core values of higher education, including academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas, and social responsibility. State authorities have a responsibility to safeguard these values by taking all reasonable steps to ensure the security of higher education communities and their members, including a responsibility to deter future attacks by investigating incidents and making every effort to hold perpetrators accountable, consistent with internationally recognized standards. Members of society similarly have a responsibility to help safeguard the higher education space, especially following incidents of such gross violence, by pressing demands to state authorities for greater protection and accountability, and by contributing to efforts to understand and reinforce principles of autonomy and academic freedom.