On August 23, 2023, Chittagong University (CU) Sociology Professor Maidul Islam received a show-cause letter – a court order that requires a party to appear before the court and explain why a certain course of action should not be taken against them. The letter apparently was related to Facebook posts that Islam had made on the civil and political situation in Bangladesh.
On August 1, 2023, a member of the student wing of the ruling party, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), triggered an online “smear campaign” against Islam, tagging more than 40 members of the BCL and Awami politicians, including CU teachers who were supportive of the ruling party, in their post on Facebook. Following the online campaign, on August 20th, the Chittagong University Teachers’ Association (CUTA) held a meeting requesting the Vice Chancellor take legal action against Islam for comments he had made against Bangladesh’s ruling party, Awami League. These requests spurred the show-cause letter.
Maidul Islam, who is currently getting his PhD at University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Sociology, was issued a 15-day notice to appear in Bangladeshi court to respond to the show-cause letter.
The show-cause letter is the most recent retaliation against Islam. In 2018, Islam was, among other reported attacks, arrested and jailed for nearly 40 days due to “defamatory[comments] against the Prime Minister.” Later in 2019, CU administrators refused to grant Islam education leave to take a fellowship offer from Leiden University.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about an investigation into a scholar and other punitive measures taken in retaliation for the exercising of the right to freedom of expression. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliatory actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill the exercise of academic freedom – including public commentary on one’s political opinions. State officials and higher education authorities have an obligation not to interfere with expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspensions stemming from such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.