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: November 16, 2023

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):University of Tripoli

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Libya

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 16, 2023, Libya’s Internal Security Agency (ISA) detained Professor Abdel Fattah Al-Sayeh, the head of the General Syndicate of University Teaching Staff Members (GSUTSM).

ISA forces took Al-Sayeh from the GSUTSM headquarters on the campus of the University of Tripoli. The ISA is a government agency that has a stated mandate to protect the Libyan state and combat terrorism.

Al-Sayeh’s arrest occurred against the backdrop of a protest by university teaching staff, led by the GSUTSM. The union was demanding administrative sabbaticals for teaching assistants and faculty and the resumption of a study-abroad delegation plan. The union had announced an indefinite sit-in and the suspension of all studies until its demands were met.

Al-Sayeh was arrested following a November 15 meeting between the GSUTSM and government representatives that ended without a resolution to the labor dispute. ISA forces released Al-Sayeh after several days, following an agreement between the GSUTSM and the ISA to end the strike. Following al-Sayeh’s release, the GSUTSM called the agreement invalid, and announced on November 23 that the protest would continue. Another agreement was later reached on November 28, with the government agreeing to the union’s demands and the union ending the strike.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of a faculty member and union leader for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression – conduct that 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 Libya is a party. State and governing authorities have an obligation to refrain from taking actions to restrict or retaliate against such conduct, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, arbitrary detention intended to restrict or otherwise deter the peaceful expressive activity of scholars undermines academic freedom and democratic society more generally.