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 17, 2024

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):United States Agency for International Development | Unspecified Institution(s)

Region & Country:Eastern Africa | Zimbabwe

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 17, 2024, Zimbabwean authorities deported a group of researchers affiliated with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who were conducting a study on governance in the country.

The researchers, Norma Kriger, Brenda Lee Pearson, Sarah Logan, and Loretta Bass, a professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma, were in Zimbabwe to assess development and governance in the country to inform USAID’s work. According to The Sunday Mail, a state-run news publication, authorities accused the group of “‘“sneaking’ into the country last month without notifying the authorities according to protocol and proceeding to hold ‘unsanctioned and covert meetings,’ which were to inform Washington’s adversarial foreign policy towards Zimbabwe.”

According to USAID, the group was subjected to “overnight detention, transportation in unsafe conditions, prolonged interrogation, seizure of and intrusion into personal electronic equipment, and forced deportation.” The agency condemned the authorities’ actions and noted it follows a pattern of wrongful treatment of U.S. citizens and officials by Zimbabwean authorities.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and deportation of researchers and academics to prevent the exercise of academic and scientific activities — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a party. State authorities must refrain from interfering with such conduct as long as it is carried out peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions and deportations of researchers undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.