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GLOBAL: Academic freedom reports worldwide

In Iran, a student activist has been lashed 74 times, just hours before his release from prison after serving a one-year sentence for insulting the president. A Russian historian specialising in the lives of ethnic Germans during the Soviet Union era has gone on trial behind closed doors on charges of illegally revealing personal data. In the UAE, a Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University lecturer has being detained since April on charges of insulting officials, and rights groups have urged the university to support him. A former Cyprus University rector has accused the Famagusta municipality of infringing his right to free expression by cancelling a lecture on the 11 July naval base blast. In India, a row has erupted following the University of Delhi's decision to exclude a controversial essay from its history syllabus, and in Malaysia students have protested against the suspension of a law lecturer for criticising the Sultan of Selangor.

IRAN: Student activist lashed for insulting Ahmadinejad

Iranian student activist Peyman Aref has been lashed 74 times, just hours before his release from Tehran's Evin prison, for insulting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Guardian reported on 9 October.

A masked prison guard administered the lashing before prison officials and Aref's wife.

Aref, a political science student at Tehran University, was arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 contested presidential elections and charged with propaganda against the state and having contact with foreign media.

In March 2010 he was sentenced to a year in prison and 74 lashes for insulting the president. As a sign of protest, in a letter condemning the authorities' crackdown on politically active students at universities, Aref had refused to begin a letter addressed to the president with the formal salutation 'Salam'.

The student activist was also banned for life from working as a journalist and being a member of any political party.

According to an Iranian journalist who asked to remain unnamed, political activists are often lashed under vague and ambiguous charges. But he described Aref's lashing for insulting the president as "shocking and unprecedented".

The incident happened weeks after Somayeh Tohidlou, a doctoral student of sociology at Tehran University and campaigner for former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, was lashed 50 times in an attempt to humiliate her.

RUSSIA: Historian on trial for violating privacy laws

In Russia Mikhail Suprun, an historian specialising in the lives of ethnic Germans during the Soviet Union era, has been accused of violating privacy laws following the publication of his research. But his ongoing trial in the northwestern city of Arkhangelsk shows inconsistencies, Radio Free Europe reported on 18 October.

With Nadezhda Shalygina, a postgraduate student at Pomor University in Arkhangelsk, Suprun undertook research four years ago on the fate of ethnic Germans deported from Crimea and the Volga region during World War II as 'enemies of the Soviet people' to 'labour armies' in northern Russia.

As part of the study, a number of deported ethnic Germans were identified and their personal histories investigated. After two years of research, 20% of those deported in the Arkhangelsk region had been successfully identified.

The research results were published in The Book of Memory, which was supported by the German Red Cross.

But following complaints from family members of the deported individuals identified, Suprun was accused of illegally revealing personal data and charged with violating article 137 of the criminal code.

His trial started behind closed doors earlier this month.

A defence lawyer reported that the plaintiffs gave unclear and sometimes contradictory testimonies when interrogated by the court.

Some of them declared they had been contacted by officials from the federal security services and asked to fill in complaints. Others said they had not in fact written any complaints despite evidence presented to the court.

The defence lawyer said the investigator in the case had insisted Suprun be charged with revealing state secrets, as documents with detailed information about the activities of Russia's intelligence services were found in his personal archive during the investigation. But the prosecutor's office had refused to add that charge to the lawsuit.

The issue of ethnic Germans' deportation during World War II remains sensitive in Russia since up to a third of this population is believed to have died on the road or in exile.

UAE: University urged to condemn lecturer's prosecution

In the UAE Nasser bin Ghaith, a lecturer at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University, has been detained since April on charges of insulting ruling officials, despite procedural flaws in his trial and violation of his defence rights. The university should break its silence and condemn its employee's prosecution, Human Rights Watch urged on 13 October.

Bin Ghaith, a lecturer in international economics law at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University since 2009, was arrested on 9 April, just days before he was due to finish his course.

His family home in Dubai was searched by security forces and computers, documents and personal videos were confiscated.

Along with four others - bloggers and online activists - bin Ghaith was charged with insulting ruling officials via an internet forum. He was specifically accused of writing an article mentioning the crown prince.

Since his detention in al-Wathba prison, his family and lawyers have been the target of a harassment campaign by the authorities and the media.

Human rights organisations argue that bin Ghaith's prosecution is unfounded and politically motivated and have called for his unconditional release.

Despite these allegations and his non-violent charges, the supreme court has refused to release him. His case was placed under state security procedures, which limit his basic defence rights.

He recently reported that prison staff encouraged other prisoners to harass him, which led to his being chained in solitary confinement after an altercation with an inmate in August.

Since bin Ghaith's arrest, both Paris-Sorbonne University and its Emirati partner Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University have refused to condemn the Emirati authorities.

The university also disassociated itself from its employee, identifying him as an "external lecturer". Georges Molinié, the Paris-Sorbonne University vice-chancellor, declared that bin Ghaith's prosecution was independent of his academic position and that no official comment could be made on his case.

Human Rights Watch has reminded Sorbonne University that peaceful free expression is one of its core values and has called on the university publicly to condemn the detention and trial of bin Ghaith.

The organisation has said Sorbonne's reaction will indicate whether it has decided to support liberal education values or to ignore the repression of these same values by the UAE authorities.

Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University and Paris-Sorbonne University are officially independent but share close administrative and financial ties, with the French university receiving 15% of the Emirati university's student fee income.

CYPRUS: Did municipality bow to political pressure?

A former rector of Cyprus University has written an open letter accusing the municipality of Famagusta of interfering in his freedom of expression after cancelling a lecture on the 11 July naval base blast, the Cyprus Mail reported on 13 October.

Academic Stavros Zenios accused Famagusta municipality, in cancelling his lecture planned for 7 November, of bowing to pressure from political groups on the municipal council.

He also said the municipality had asked him on several occasions to change the subject of his lecture, which he argued violated his freedom of expression.

The lecture was supposed to discuss three aspects of the 11 July naval base blast: the reasons behind the incident, imagining a 'new Cyprus' and how changes might be introduced in the country following the tragedy.

On 11 July, about 100 containers filled with explosives self-detonated on the Evangelos Florakis naval base near Zygi killing 13 people and injuring 62. The incident had severe economic and political consequences, including calls from academics and politicians for President Demetris Christofia to resign after he was held responsible for the blast.

But Famagusta Mayor Alexis Galanos considers Zenios' letter misleading.

According to Galanos, the lecture was only postponed to another date, to be confirmed later, and Zenios was asked to include an economic perspective. Galanos is planning to answer the academic's letter.

INDIA: Delhi University row over controversial essay

In India, a passionate debate has broken out in Delhi over whether Delhi University should include a controversial essay about the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, in its syllabus, the BBC reported on 18 October.

The university recently decided to remove the essay titled, "Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five examples and three thoughts on translation", from its history courses.

This decision was taken by the university's academic council, which is in charge of syllabus content, despite a recommendation from an expert committee created by the supreme court to keep the article in the syllabus.

The essay, written by the renowned scholar AK Ramanujan, has been included in Delhi University's history courses since 2006. Hindu extremist groups have protested against its inclusion.

The essay portrays 300 accounts of the Ramayana from India and other countries in Asia and includes versions of the Ramayana suggesting that Lord Ram and Sita were brother and sister and that the demon King Ravana was Sita's father.

Hard-line groups, who follow the most popular version written by Hindu sage Valmiki, judge the essay insulting of Hindu beliefs. In the main story, Lord Ram and Sita formed an ideal married couple, and Ravana was her kidnapper against whom Lord Ram had to fight to rescue his wife.

The university's history department condemned the decision to drop the essay from the teaching list and lamented the fact that the institution was more concerned about political pressure than ensuring academic freedom.

The history department's Professor Sunil Kumar declared they were planning to write a letter to the academic council to ask for the essay to be restored.

MALAYSIA: Students protest don's suspension

Student leaders plan to take grievances over the lack of academic freedom to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak next week, reported The Star on 21 October.

Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM) chairman Ahmad Syukri Ab Razab said the group planned to hand over a memorandum to the prime minister during an expected visit to the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) next week.

He told a press conference that academics in Malaysia's universities "need to be given the space for critical thinking and debate".

The SMM staged a demonstration at the IIUM mosque, calling for the reinstatement of law lecturer Professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari. Ahmad Syukri claimed four students were arrested and that the group would take further action next week if the university did not do anything.

The university suspended and issued a show cause letter to the professor for allegedly making controversial statements against the Sultan of Selangor, The Star reported in another article. He allegedly said that Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah's intervention in a church raid controversy was "unusual and inconsistent".

IIUM gave Abdul Aziz a week to explain why action should not be taken against him. Meanwhile, he has been barred from visiting the campus without the dean's permission.

* 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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