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GLOBAL: Academic freedom reports worldwide

In Chad two students detained for being in possession of pro-reform pamphlets are preparing to go on trial. In Iran prominent jailed student activist Majid Tavakoli has been permanently banned from studying at any university, and a doctoral student who campaigned for the opposition candidate in the 2009 elections was detained and subjected to 50 lashes. International Turkmen students have been prevented by their country's migration officials from returning to universities in neighbouring Tajikistan and are in danger of being expelled. And in Nigeria, students have accused the authorities of failing to guarantee their safety after extremist Islamic group Boko Haram threatened bomb attacks on universities.

CHAD: Students face trial over pro-reform propaganda

Two Chadian students who have been held by Chadian authorities for four months for allegedly planning pro-democracy protests in the country face their trial this month, Amnesty International reported on 12 September.

Bebkika Passoua Alexis and Nedoumbayel Nekaou were arrested by security forces in May at a bus station in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, for allegedly carrying pamphlets calling for peaceful demonstrations against President Idriss Deby Itno's rule.

They were detained in solitary confinement before being transferred to N'Djamena's central prison. It was reported that they have been tortured while in custody, and their health has deteriorated, with both developing serious eye and skin infections.

The students allegedly had two documents in their possession at the time of arrest: a letter addressed to the youth, and a document titled "Enough is Enough", calling for reforms in Chad and referencing the popular uprising earlier this year in Egypt and Tunisia.

The students were charged with "provocation directly linked to an unarmed demonstration" and risk six months in prison even though the demonstration never took place.

Amnesty International, which had access to the documents, argues that their content respects the limit of freedom of expression. The organisation suspects the Chadian authorities of detaining the students because of their political engagement, adding that if they were being held merely on suspicion of supporting a peaceful protest, they would be considered "prisoners of conscience".

Their trial was delayed three times after officials from the National Security Agency failed to appear in court to testify. The trial was due to start on 15 September.

IRAN: Permanent study ban on jailed student activist

Majid Tavakoli, a prominent jailed student activist, has been sentenced by an Iranian court to a permanent ban from continuing his studies at any university across the country, Radio Free Europe reported on 21 September. This will apply even after his release,

The ruling was handed down, reportedly at the request of the Iranian Education Ministry, in a Tehran Revolutionary Court by Judge Salavati, known for his harsh sentences against political activists.

Tavakoli, who has become a prominent symbol of Iran's embattled student movement, is currently serving an eight-and-a-half-year sentence for allegedly insulting Iran's leaders and producing propaganda against the Islamic state.

He is a member of the central council of the university's Islamic Association and is highly respected among student activists for his outspokenness.

Detained three times since 2006, Tavakoli was last arrested on 7 December 2009, after giving a critical speech against state repression at Amir Kabir University in Tehran in commemoration of Student Day.

Following his detention, students and activists launched a campaign calling for his release.

During his custody, Takavoli has reportedly received more severe treatment than other prisoners and has several times gone on hunger strike to protest against his mistreatment and detention conditions, which have resulted in a serious condition of stomach bleeding. He has numerous times been denied visitors and has spent most of his time in solitary confinement.

It has not been confirmed whether Tavakoli has been informed of the latest ruling against him.

IRAN: Doctoral student lashed for political activities

Somayeh Tohidlou, a doctoral student of sociology at Tehran University who campaigned for opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi during the contested 2009 presidential election, announced on her blog that she received 50 lashes at Evin prison in Tehran, Radio Free Europe reported on 16 September.

Arrested on 14 June 2009 in the middle of the night at her home, two days after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's election, Tohidlou was detained at Evin prison and released two months later on IRR2 billion (US$200,000) bail.

She was charged with insulting the president and acting against national security, and was sentenced to one year in prison and 50 lashes. Her one-year prison sentence was later cancelled by an appeal court.

According to Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist based in the UK, the authorities wanted Tohidlou to beg for forgiveness. But facing her refusal they carried out the sentence 'symbolically', lashing her as hard as was permitted by law.

Their aim was to humiliate the well-known women's rights activist and spread fear among other political activists before parliamentary elections next March.

On her blog, Tohidlou reported her overwhelming "humiliation" on being lashed.

Tohidlou's blog and Facebook page have been inundated with messages of support and statements condemning the sentence.

Additional news source: The Australian

TURKMENISTAN: Students banned from study in Tajikistan

Turkmenistan's migration services have barred Turkmen students at Tajik universities from returning to their studies, Radio Free Europe reported on 12 September.

Hundreds of students, mostly from Lebap province, were stopped by officials at the Uzbek border to Tajikistan and barred from crossing.

The issue was reported to migration officials in Lebap province and in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, but no details were given on the reasons for the ban or how long it would be in place.

An unnamed Turkmen student studying at Tajik State Medical Institute reported that he had never previously experienced problems leaving the country, despite returning home every summer.

Tajik universities are often preferred by Turkmen students over European institutions because of their cost-effective fees, but only a few Turkmen students get government scholarships.

It is suspected that the authorities in Turkmenistan are attempting to prevent students from travelling to Tajikistan because of increasing levels of extremist Islamic activity in the country, following months of fighting between the extremists and the Tajikistan military.

Prior to the ban, local authorities in Turkmenistan collected detailed information on the population, including professional and academic activities.

The Turkmen Education Ministry failed to comment on the situation. But the Tajik Education Ministry has confirmed that no Turkmen students have returned to Tajik universities, adding that they were at risk of being expelled from their institutions if they failed to come back in time.

NIGERIA: Islamic threats against universities

According to Nigerian police, the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram is planning to spread its attacks, including bombings, to universities across the country, AllAfrica reported on 15 September.

Peter Ogboi, Edo State police spokesperson, said the police were doing everything necessary to protect students and staff on campuses and in other public places, and were "not taking anything for granted".

But the announcement led to confusion at the University of Ibadan in Oyo State, where examinations were disrupted after Tokunbo Salako, President of the Student Union, and other student leaders allegedly called for the examinations to be stopped.

Students were asked to leave examinations halls in all faculties for fear of attacks.

Student leaders accused university officials of concealing the Boko Haram threat from them, and argued that security was not guaranteed by the university, especially since security and lighting systems were disrupted after floods previously hit Ibadan.

Nevertheless, increased security activity by police has been reported around the university since the Boko Haram threats.

Boko Haram, which means 'Western education is sinful' in Hausa, is an Islamic sect targeting Western education in the name of Islam. It is responsible for the Abuja police headquarters bombings last June and the attack on the United Nations building in Abuja in August that killed 23 people.

* Noemi Bouet is a programme officer 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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