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 21, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Princeton University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Iraq

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In July 2023, it was reported that Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Russian-Israeli PhD student in the Political Science department at Princeton University, was kidnapped around late March while conducting her doctoral research in Baghdad, Iraq.

Tsurkov is an outspoken critic of human rights abuses in the Middle East. She has conducted research throughout the Levant region, focusing on the experiences of local people and abuses by powerful actors. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that Tsurkov is believed to be held by a Shiite militia, Kataib Hezbollah. According to reports, Tsurkov’s last communications were on March 19, 2023, when she informed the New Lines Institute, where she is a research fellow, of her plans to return to the United States from Iraq, and March 21, 2023, when she posted on Twitter about protests by Kurdish groups in northern Syria. Her whereabouts are still unknown.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the kidnapping of a university student. State authorities should take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of scholars, students, and staff, including by investigating and holding perpetrators of such acts responsible, in line with international human rights standards. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, kidnappings targeting members of the higher education community undermine the conditions needed for the meaningful exercise of the right to education and academic freedom.