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: February 02, 2022

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Alberoni University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Afghanistan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 2, 2022, Yaqub Yasna, a writer and professor at Alberoni University, announced on his Facebook page that he had resigned due to accusations of blasphemy from other professors at the university.

According to his Facebook post, Yasna had been teaching Persian literature and language at the university for 14 years prior to his resignation. Although he has openly criticized ethnic politics and Taliban policies in Afghanistan, Yasna asserts that he has never disrespected any religion. 

However, Yasna claims that some individuals began sharing his writings in the official university WhatsApp group for professors, which has several hundred members. Consequently, professors across various faculties labeled him as atheistic and accused him of blasphemy, which can be seen in screenshots that he posted to his social media. Yasna alleges that the professors issued a takfir sentence against him – a Muslim process of excommunicating another Muslim from Islam, which, under sharia law, condemns the excommunicated Muslim to death. According to Yasna, an Alberoni professor named Zamri Mohammadi then shared the accusations across other platforms, including on social media and in virtual groups of scientists. Some university students reportedly echoed the accusations as well.

Given these accusations, which Yasna believes were intended to get him fired, and the lack of a response from the university’s leadership, he felt pressured to resign. Speaking with 8am, he expressed that he feared that if he did not resign, he would potentially meet the same fate as Farkhunda Malikzada – a young Afghani woman who was publicly murdered by a mob in 2015 over false accusations that she had burned the Quran.

Alberoni University officials have rejected Yasna’s account and told 8am that he resigned due to personal problems with several colleagues, which they said he had not shared with university leadership. A representative from the university’s Ministry of Higher Education asserted that the university did not engage in any pressure or accusations against Yasna and that he would be able to return to his post and have his salary restored if he discussed the situation with university authorities.

Yasna told Amaj News that many Persian-speaking scholars have faced discrimination and restrictions under the Taliban government. According to the Khaama Press News Agency, as of February 5, 2022, 229 university lecturers have left Afghanistan’s top three universities since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the use of intimidation and harassment tactics, including the implicit threat of violence, against an academic for exercising his right to freedom of expression – conduct which 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 Afghanistan is a party. Members of the academic community should refrain from taking actions that chill or restrict such conduct, regardless of political or ideological differences in opinion. University authorities also have an obligation to protect the rights of the university’s scholars and should seek to prevent and hold perpetrators accountable for intimidation and harassment within the university community. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, intimidation and harassment in response to peaceful expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.