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: April 12, 2024

Attack Types: Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):University of Glasgow

Region & Country:Europe | Germany

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 12, 2024, German authorities denied entry to Ghassan Abu Sittah, a surgeon and the rector of the University of Glasgow. Abu Sittah was scheduled to speak at a pro-Palestinian event later that day in Berlin.

Conference organizers invited Abu Sittah, a British citizen of Palestinian origin, to speak at the Palästina Kongress (Palestine Congress), which was scheduled to take place from April 12 to 14 and organized by Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East, a Germany-based nonprofit. He planned to recount his experiences in Gaza, where he had recently worked as a surgeon with the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders during Israel’s bombardment of the region.

Upon Abu Sittah’s arrival at Berlin’s airport, border officials stopped him at passport control and took him to a room where airport police questioned him for three hours. In a comment to An-Nahar, Abu Sittah shared that police asked about his “experience in Gaza, the reason [he] came to Germany, and the evidence [he] presented to the International Court.” In early 2024, Abu Sittah detailed his experiences in Gaza to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Authorities then informed him that he was banned from entering the country for the full duration of the Palästina Kongress, through April 14. In a comment to The Associated Press, Abu Sittah said police told him that he was banned to ensure “the safety of the people at the conference and public order.” He was told to leave and book a new ticket in order to enter the country.

On May 4, 2024, Abu Sittah was denied entry to France, where he was scheduled to speak to France’s Senate on the invitation of Senator Raymonde Poncet-Monge. French officials stated that Abu Sittah was barred due to Germany requesting a one-year ban on his entrance to all countries in the Schengen Area.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about state authorities denying an academic entry to their country in an apparent effort to restrict or retaliate against his nonviolent exercise of academic freedom and freedom of speech – 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 Germany is a signatory. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from actions that restrict or retaliate against academic activity so long as it is peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions intended to deter such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.