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Print Page UNIVERSITY VALUES bulletin, new blog post October 2014 (new blog format!)

University Values header

Deported from Papua New Guinea due to his activities as Vice-Chancellor of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology, one scholar shares his story of perseverance and courage on our University Values blog. UNIVERSITY VALUES is an electronic bulletin and blog featuring articles, essays and announcements promoting discussion and understanding of university values - including access, accountability/ transparency, academic freedom/quality, autonomy/good governance, and social responsibility. SAR coordinates the production and circulation of the bulletin, in cooperation with an international network of contributing organizations and individuals. The views presented are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent SAR or its respective members. The October 2014 guest blog post is available here. (An archive of prior editions from 2009-2012 is available here.)

SAR calls for letters: Appeal denied for professor sentenced to life in prison in China

New York, November 21, 2014 -- Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned over reports that an appeals court in China has upheld the sentence for Professor Ilham Tohti, a public intellectual and economics professor, who was convicted on charges of separatism and sentenced to life in prison in September. SAR calls for letters, emails, and faxes respectfully urging authorities to ensure that any charges or convictions related to his academic activities are lifted.

Professor Tohti is a professor of economics at the Central Minzu University in Beijing and advocate for the rights of the Chinese Uighur minority. Scholars at Risk understands that on the afternoon of January 15, 2014, police raided Professor Tohti’s family home and arrested Professor Tohti. According to reports, he was held incommunicado until late June, after which he was denied regular access to family. On July 30, Professor Tohti was formally charged with separatism, charges that reportedly stem from his teachings at the university and writings published on his former website, Uighur Online.

On September 16 and 17, 2014, Professor Tohti underwent a two-day trial in the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court, which was closed to the public. Professor Tohti reportedly maintained his innocence throughout trial, rejecting the charge of separatism and stating: "There is nothing wrong with voicing one’s thoughts. And there is nothing wrong with doing academic research." Following trial, on September 23, 2014, the court found Professor Tohti guilty of separatism and sentenced him to life in prison. This sentence was upheld on November 21; an appeals decision was made within the detention center where Professor Tohti is being held. Write on behalf of Professor Tohti today, view SAR's letter, or visit SAR's monitoring website to learn more.

SAR Network 2014 Global Congress, 9-10 April 2014

Scholars at Risk’s triennial Global Congress was held in Amsterdam on April 9-10. The theme was "Freedom to Think, Responsibility to Act,” recognizing the important role that scholars and the higher education sector generally play in society, while at the same time challenging members of the sector to consider whether access to higher education and the enjoyment of academic freedom carry with them responsibilities. If yes, what are they and how are they to be met? The Congress explored these issues through panels, roundtable discussions, workshops and a performance of Courage to Think Monologues (featuring the stories of threatened scholars assisted by our network).  The Congress also included the 2014 SAR Network Meeting reviewing SAR’s mission, governance and strategy. Thanks to all who attended.

The summary report of the Congress is available here.  It includes brief summaries of the discussions, key recommendations, and references to the many ways your institution, researchers and students benefit and can be a part of this important work, as well as links to videos, presentations, media stories and network membership information.  We invite you to share it with colleagues at your institution and other institutions, inviting them to get involved.  We invite you also to continue the discussions on SAR's Facebook and Twitter pages (#free2think). More information on the Congress is available at

SAR calls for letters on behalf of Malaysian law professor facing prosecution on sedition charges

New York, September 11, 2014 -- Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned by reports that Dr. Azmi Sharom, an associate professor of law, faces prosecution on charges relating to his academic profession. SAR calls for letters, faxes and emails respectfully urging authorities to investigate and drop any charges stemming from Prof. Azmi's exercise of academic freedom and free expression.

Professor Azmi Sharom is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Malaya. Scholars at Risk understands that, on September 2, 2014, Prof. Azmi was charged in Kuala Lumpur Session Court with sedition. Under Malaysian law, sedition is defined as speech that “would bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against” the government. The charges apparently stem from an interview Prof. Azmi gave on August 14 regarding an ongoing political crisis in Selangor state. In the interview, Prof. Azmi compared the current crisis to a situation in the Malaysian state of Perak in 2009, stating, “[y]ou don’t want a repeat of that, where a secret meeting took place” and “I think what happened in Perak was legally wrong. The best thing to do is do it as legally and transparently as possible.” Prof. Azmi pleaded not guilty to the charge against him and was released on bail pending trial. He spoke publicly about the prosecution, stating, “I was shocked to learn that I am being charged under the Sedition Act because of comments I made on the Perak crisis of 2009. My statements were based on established case law and democratic principles. They were given in my capacity as a law lecturer of 24 years standing.” Reports indicate that his next hearing is set for October 3, 2014.
View a copy of SAR's letter or write one of your own.

UPDATE: Good news! Retrial granted for Omid Kokabee

New York, October 14, 2014 -- According to a report by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the Supreme Court of Iran has accepted a retrial request for the imprisoned physicist and doctoral student Omid Kokabee.

On January 30, 2011, Omid Kokabee, 33, was arrested at the Tehran International Airport when trying to return to the U.S. after visiting his family. Mr. Kokabee was a post-doctoral nuclear physics student at the University of Texas at Austin. Following his arrest, Mr. Kokabee was kept in solitary confinement for over a month before he was allowed to see his family and lawyer. On May 14, 2012, he was charged with "contact with enemy states" and sentenced to ten years in prison. Evidence of these charges were unsubstantiated and Mr. Kokabee wrote that his arrest occurred when he refused to cooperate with security agents on a military research project. Mr. Kokabee's lawyer states, "acceptance of the retrial request means that the top judiciary authority has deemed Dr Omid Kokabee's [initial] verdict against the law."

Scholars at Risk has advocated on behalf of Mr. Kokabee on multiple occasions, and we will continue to monitor developments in this case. For copies of SAR's public letters regarding Mr. Kokabee, and for additional information on SAR’s advocacy work, please visit our Scholars in Prison page.

SAR calls for letters on behalf of university lecturer arrested in Ethiopia

New York, July 23, 2014 – Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned by reports that  Abraha Desta, a political science lecturer at Mekelle University, was arrested and detained on July 8th. 

Scholars at Risk understands that on July 8, 2014 policed arrested Mr. Desta, along with three others, and that he has been held incommunicado since that time. He many have been relocated to Addis Abba. It is believed that Mr. Desta’s arrest is a response to his involvement with the legally registered Arena Tigray party, as well as opinions he expressed on social media websites. No official charges have been made public, but it has been reported that he could face charges for alleged terrorist offenses.

SAR calls for letters, faxes and emails respectfully urging authorities to investigate the situation, to secure the scholars’ immediate release or, pending their release, to explain publicly the circumstances of Mr. Desta’s arrest and detention and to ensure his well-being, access to counsel and access to family. Send a letter of your own, or visit our monitoring website to learn more.

Dean Habib Kazdaghli Acquitted!

New York, June 20, 2014 -- Scholars at Risk welcomes the news that Habib Kazdaghli, Dean of the Faculty of letters, Arts and Humanities in Tunisia’s Manouba University, was acquitted by the Court of Appeal in Tunis on June 17, 2014. Dean Kazdaghli was originally acquitted in 2013 and the case had been submitted for appeal.

Dean Kazdaghli had been charged with “violence perpetrated by a civil servant in the course of his duties” under Article 101 of the Penal Law, with a possible punishment of five years imprisonment. These charges arose from an incident on March 6, 2012, after two students -- who forcibly and without permission entered and disrupted the Dean’s office -- had accused the Dean of slapping one of them. Dean Kazdaghli repeatedly denied the charges and was acquitted in May 2013. The students were reportedly convicted of damaging property and interfering with a public official and given a suspended sentence. The case was submitted for appeal in December 2013, but the Court of Appeal in Tunis once again acquitted Dean Kazdaghli this week.

Scholars at Risk joined many others in advocating on Dean Kazdaghli’s behalf. Many thanks to all who sent letters of appeal on behalf of this and other scholars. More

SAR expresses grave concern over recent intimidation of scholars in Thailand

New York, May 29, 2014 -- Scholars at Risk  is gravely concerned over recent reports that several Thai academics have been ordered to turn themselves in to military authorities, following the Thai military’s seizure of power and declaration of martial law last week. These reports raise serious concerns about the intimidation of intellectuals in Thailand and the ability to conduct world-class scholarship in such an environment.

Scholars at Risk calls on Thai authorities to rescind the May 24, 2014 order, to release any scholars currently detained, and to reaffirm publicly the government's support for internationally recognized principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy.  Pending this, Scholars at Risk calls upon Thai authorities to ensure the well-being of any scholars or others held in custody under the order or otherwise, including disclosing their location, any charges against them, and guaranteeing access to counsel, family and any necessary medical treatment.  Scholars at Risk further calls on Thai authorities to ensure that any proceedings against scholars held proceed in a timely manner consistent with Thailand’s obligations under international law, in particular internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, academic freedom and free expression, and freedom of association. More

SAR honored with Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award

Scholars at Risk is honored to receive Tufts University’s Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award. The award is given in commemoration of former university chancellor and president Dr. Jean Mayer, whose dictum was: “Scholarship, research and teaching must be dedicated to solving the most pressing problems facing the world.” The inscription on the award reads: “For your extraordinary embrace of intellectuals fleeing persecution and violence and for your vigorous defense of the principles of unencumbered inquiry and academic freedom.” SAR is grateful to all our members and partners who make this important work possible.

The award was presented to SAR on February 28th at Tufts University’s annual Institute for Global Leadership symposium, which focused on “The Future of the Middle East and North Africa”, and featured international practitioners, activists, academics, public intellectuals, and journalists, including SAR scholars from Bahrain and Syria.

Tunisia's NCA Approves Article 32 protecting academic freedoms in new constitution

University and the Nation Report Cover, Nov 2013

On January 6th Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly adopted a constitutional provision guaranteeing protection of academic freedoms. Article 32 of the new constitution states that "academic freedoms and freedom of scientific research shall be guaranteed" and requires that "[t]he state shall seek to provide the necessary means to develop scientific and technological research."  The measure passed by a vote of 171 for, 6 against, and 6 abstentions. The NCA is scheduled to adopt the full constitution by January 14. Adoption requires two-thirds of the assembly's 217 members; otherwise it will have to be put to a public referendum.

With the new Article 32, Tunisia joins at least 20 other states that include explicit protection for academic freedom or academic liberty in their constitutions. Constitutions in another 99 states include language directly guaranteeing elements of academic freedom (including, for example, institutional autonomy), while 76 states indirectly guarantee academic freedom via related rights, including the freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and right to education. (Full list of countries here.)

Scholars at Risk supports the inclusion of language explicitly protecting academic freedom and institutional autonomy in national constitutions, basic laws and national higher education statutes. Explicit protection helps to ensure the security of higher education communities and their members, freeing them to fulfill their vital educational, social, cultural, economic and political functions, to the benefit of society.

Scholars at Risk has been concerned about pressures on higher education communities in Tunisia and throughout the Arab Spring countries, including co-organizing an international conference in Tunis together with Tunisian partners and New York University's Center for Dialogues. The report of the conference, The University and the Nation: Safeguarding Higher Education in Tunisia and Beyond, was released on November 18th. Details of the event are available on SAR's Events page.

New Report: Institutional Autonomy and the Protection of Higher Education from Attack

Autonomy & Security report cover image

Scholars at Risk is pleased to share the publication of a new report, "Institutional Autonomy and the Protection of Higher Education from Attack."  The report examines the need for increased efforts to protect higher education from violent and coercive attacks by simultaneously increasing security and autonomy.  The report is issued by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).  Scholars at Risk is a member of the coalition's Higher Education Working Group and played a leading role in developing the report.


SAR News Headlines SAR Events

01/28/2014, Providing a safe haven for scholars at risk Montreal is half a world away from the rural community of Bure, Ethiopia, where Semahagn Abebe was raised by his grandmother. One of eleven children, he soon moved to the capital city, Addis Ababa, to pursue higher education and launch his career.
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10/25/2013, Prof Suspended Over Tweet Won't Return in 2013 The chancellor of the University of Kansas announced Thursday that a journalism professor suspended over a tweet that angrily targeted the National Rifle Association after the Navy Yard shootings will not return to his classroom in 2013.
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10/25/2013, Confederate flag raises issues, ire at a N.Y. college ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A University of Rochester student says college officials violated his right to free expression by forcing him to take down a Confederate flag he had put in the window of his room on campus.
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02/21/2013, The University and the Nation: Safeguarding Higher Education in Tunisia and Beyond Scholars at Risk and the NYU Center for Dialogues announce a conference, The University and the Nation: Safeguarding Higher Education in Tunisia and Beyond, at University of Manouba in Tunis, Tunisia on...
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05/23/2011, Launch of Scholars at Risk, Norway Section Scholars at Risk, Norway Section will be launched at Oslo University College (HiO). The Norwegian Section will represent Norway in the wider international Scholars at Risk Network and organize and coordinate...
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04/27/2011, Swimming with Sharks: How Big Pharma Threatens Academic Freedom The University of Groningen, member of the SAR-UAF network in the Netherlands, hosts “Swimming with Sharks: How Big Pharma Threatens Academic Freedom,” from 8 to 10 p.m. on April 27 at the Academiegebouw,...
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