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GLOBAL: Academic freedom reports worldwide

Chinese constitutional scholar and activist Yao Lifa has been freed but is suffering from multiple injuries after spending almost a month in detention. In Iran, religious scholar Ahmad Ghabel is suffering declining health in Vakilabad prison, where he is serving a sentence for insulting the country's supreme leader. Ashkan Zahabian, a student activist jailed in northern Iran, has started a hunger strike to protest against the conditions of his detention and confusion around his case. The family of Abdolreza Soudbakhsh, a professor at Tehran University and medical doctor who was murdered by unidentified men in September 2010, have claimed that his killing was linked to his work with rape and torture victims.

CHINA: Scholar freed from secret detention

Yao Lifa, a constitutional scholar and activist in Hubei province in central China, has been freed in complex circumstances and is suffering from multiple injuries after spending almost a month in secret detention, Radio Free Asia reported on 5 September.

Yao was allowed home on 4 September. The circumstances and date of his release remain unknown but it appears that he was hospitalised under a false name for a gall bladder disease before going home.

His wife, Feng Lin, reported that Yao had multiple injuries, including to his wrists and back, as a result of being tortured during detention. He also endured starvation and psychological mistreatment such as a denial of clean clothes or the opportunity to wash his clothes.

Yao was arrested in Beijing by national security police a month ago while staying at a friend's house. He was targeted and harassed by the authorities for his leading role in the national movement for local independent candidates for the People's Congress election that will takes place this year across the country.

Human rights groups have expressed concern about the growing number of extrajudicial detentions in China, and there are also deep concerns about a change in the criminal code currently being debated in the National People's Congress. If adopted, secret detentions will be legalised and become routine.

According to Qin Yongmin, a political activist based in Wuhan, Yao is remains under heavy surveillance from national security police but still wishes to stand in the local elections as an independent candidate.

IRAN: Imprisoned scholar's health declining

Ahmad Ghabel, a prominent Iranian religious scholar imprisoned five weeks ago, is at risk due to declining health, his wife reported to Radio Free Europe on 6 September.

Ghabel was arrested on 31 July after presenting himself to the Revolutionary Court in the northeastern city of Mashad, following an appeal court ruling, and was taken to Vakilabad prison to start a 20-month prison sentence.

After visiting her husband in prison accompanied by her daughter, Marzieh Pasdar declared that she was "shocked" at his bad state of health and weakness. She said Ghabel was struggling to keep his balance and had blurred vision. His health problems had not been diagnosed, despite a visit to the prison infirmary.

Arrested in September 2010, Ghabel was charged with insulting the supreme leader, propaganda against the state and acting against national security. He was sentenced to the maximum of three years' imprisonment, three years' exile from his city of residence and a three-year ban on speeches.

In January 2011 he was released on IRR530 million (US$50,000) bail by Branch 5 of Mashad's Revolutionary Court. He had 16 months of his three-year sentence converted to a $4,000 cash fine.

Ghabel is known for strongly criticising conservatives. He has been arrested several times since 2001 for criticising Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for interviews he gave to international media and for his denunciation of secret mass executions in Vakilabad.

IRAN: Student activist on hunger strike

Ashkan Zahabian, a student activist imprisoned in Matikola Prison in Babol, has started a hunger strike to protest against the conditions of his detention and confusion around his case, Radio Free Europe reported on 2 September. Babol is in Iran's northern Mazandaran province.

According to his father, Hassan Zahabian, prison officials decided to transfer him to solitary confinement despite the student being in a critically ill and comatose state. They denied him the right to seek medical assistance outside the prison, even though he bled from his stomach for two weeks.

It appears that Zahabian received extremely bad treatment, especially at the beginning of his detention. After a complaint from his family, the situation improved but his father remains convinced that he is under pressure to remain silent about his problems inside the prison.

As a political prisoner, Zahabian argues that he should not be detained with criminals but others political criminals.

In February 2009, the Intelligence Ministry banned him from continuing his studies, only one term before his graduation, because of his student activism.

He was arrested in June 2009 and sentenced to six months in prison for disrupting order, inciting people to protest and organising university protests. Zahabian was re-arrested in November 2009 for allegedly acting against national security, and was sentenced to six months in prison by a Revolutionary Court.

During the 2009 presidential election, Zahabian campaigned for opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi at his headquarters in Babol. Just after the election, he was arrested by security forces, severely beaten and, as a result, was unconscious for three days. In the period following the election, he was detained for a total of eight weeks.

Considering that he has already served half of his sentence, Zahabian now qualifies under law for conditional release. His mother said she would also go on a hunger strike to support her son's cause.

IRAN: Professor killed after examining rape victims

Abdolreza Soudbakhsh, a professor at Tehran University and a medical doctor, was murdered by unidentified men in September 2010. His son argues that his killing was linked to his work with rape and torture victims, the Guardian reported on 25 August. Soudbakhsh was shot dead by men on a motorcycle after leaving his office.

Despite official reports at the time of his death denying any link with his work at Kahrizak detention centre, his family is convinced that Soudbakhsh was murdered to prevent him disclosing what he knew about rape and torture at the centre.

Kahrizak was used by the Iranian authorities to detain opposition activists arrested during the 2009 unrest that followed a contested presidential election. Mass rape and torture were reported to have been used against prisoners.

As part of his work at the centre, Soudbakhsh examined victims of rape and was shocked by cases involving children who died from their injuries. He was pressured to remain silent about these cases and was asked to lie about the death of tortured protestors, by claiming that they died of meningitis.

A few weeks before his death, Soudbakhsh mentioned rape in the detention centre in an interview with Deutsche Welle's Persian network. Knowing he was a target, he was wearing a bulletproof vest. According to his son, Behrang Soudbakhsh, he was planning to leave the country the night he was killed.

Soudbakhsh's family became even more persuaded that his murder was related to the Kahrizak detention centre after the police refused to cooperate with an investigation into his death, denying access to the scene's CCTV footage despite allegations that the killers did not cover their faces.

Ramin Pourandarjani, another doctor at the Kahrizak centre, also died in November 2009 in mysterious circumstances after examining rape victims.

* Noemi Bouet is a programme assistant at the Network for Education and Academic Rights, NEAR, a non-profit organisation that facilitates the rapid global transfer of accurate information in response to breaches of academic freedom and human rights in education.
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