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GLOBAL: Academic freedom reports worldwide

In Uzbekistan, a female Uzbek student on vacation from studies in Germany has committed suicide after four days of police interrogation. In Turkey, 22 of 28 leftist youths detained for six months over accusations of terrorist links have been released after a court rejected the accusations against them. Professor Nasser bin Gaith of Abu Dhabi's Sorbonne University, along with four others detained for eight months for signing an online pro-reform petition, has been freed after a presidential pardon. In Iran, an imprisoned rights activist has been denied leave to write a graduate admissions test. And in Tunisia, Islamic fundamentalist groups have disrupted university classes and exams and have targeted female professors.

UZBEKISTAN: Student suicide after police interrogation

Uzbek student Gulsumoi Abdujalilova killed herself after being interrogated for four days by local authorities in the western Uzbek city of Andijon, Radio Free Europe reported on 6 December.

Abdujalilova, who was studying in Germany, was home on vacation when she was summoned by the local police and interrogated for four days at the beginning of December.

On 4 December, she committed suicide by swallowing a large quantity of pills.

According to Yelena Urlayeva, who chairs the Uzbek NGO Human Rights Alliance, Abdujalilova was physically mistreated during her detention.

She was also forced to write a false declaration against the leader of the opposition People's Movement of Uzbekistan (OHH), Muhammad Salih, who currently lives in exile.

In a suicide note, Abdujalilova wrote: "They tried to make me kill some opposition activists, but it is better if I die myself than to take someone else's life."

According to OHH, which via its website expressed condolences to the student's family, Abdujalilova had never been part of the opposition movement.

No details were given for Abdujalilova being summoned by the police, and the authorities were not available to comment on the case.

TURKEY: Court rejects accusations, releases students

Twenty-two youths, mainly students, were released by a court in Ankara after spending months in prison over accusations of links with terrorist organisations, Hurriyet reported on 10 December.

The trial of 28 leftist youths opened at the main courthouse in Ankara on 9 December. At least 3,000 people, including academics, activists and lawmakers of the Republican People's Party and the Peace and Democracy Party, gathered outside the court to support the defendants.

Twenty-two of them were later released by the court after it rejected the accusations against them.

The students were arrested in May after participating in a violent protest against the brutal repression of a demonstration earlier that day in Hopa, on the Black Sea, against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to the city.

The students were detained for up to six months before their trial started.

Aged between 20 and 31, they were charged with membership of leftist terrorist groups, spreading terrorist propaganda, intentionally injuring a public employee, damaging public property and resisting security forces.

The prosecution made public a list of what was considered incriminating evidence. It included leftist publications, posters of Turkey's leftist movement leaders Mahir Çayan and Deniz Gezmiş, fliers requesting cheaper transport and food on university campuses, and banners, sticks and an umbrella.

The case captured the attention of the public when it was learned that the indictment made the assumption that the leftist associations Halkevleri (People's Houses) and Öğrenci Kolektifleri (Students' Collectives), which called for the May protest, were civil wings of the banned Turkish People's Liberation Party Front, a now-defunct radical group that drove the 1970s leftist movement in the country.

UAE: 'Online petition' academic and activists freed

Professor Nasser bin Gaith, lecturer in international economic law at Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi, and four other convicted political activists, including a prominent blogger, have been freed after eight months in prison, Associated Press reported on 28 November.

The five men were pardoned by Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the union's president, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates national day and were released on 26 November, a day after being sentenced to two to three years in prison by the security court in Abu Dhabi.

They were arrested in April after signing an online petition calling for political reforms and were charged with insulting UAE leaders, acting against national security and inciting people to protest.

Although large-scale pro-reform protest did not take place in the country as it did elsewhere in the region, the Emirati authorities responded violently to any sign of protest or criticism.

Following his release, Gaith shared his happiness to be back with his family but also his shame for his country, which had turned into "a police state".

According to the defence lawyer Mohammed al-Roken, the charges against the five men remain despite the presidential pardon.

Gaith said that they were determined to clear their names after spending eight months in prison for crimes they did not commit.

IRAN: Student activist denied prison leave for exam

Abdolfazl Tabarzadi, an imprisoned student and human right activist, was refused the right to leave prison temporarily to take an exam, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on 28 November.

Tabarzadi's father, Reza Tabarzadi, spent days pleading for his son's right to temporary leave from prison to take a graduate admissions test on Wednesday 30 November but has only received negative answers from the Ahvaz prosecutor.

Arrested in December 2010 by security forces Tabarzadi, a civil engineering student, was sentenced to 15 months in prison by the Ahvaz lower court but later had his sentence reduced to nine months by an appeal court.

Two months ago, he was transferred to Karoon Prison in Ahvaz to start serving his sentence.

According to Tabarzadi's father, he is not a criminal but only a human rights activist who was fighting for leave and visitation rights for prisoners, including for his uncle, Heshamtollah Tabarzadi, an activist and former secretary-general of the Iran Democratic Front, detained in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj.

It appears that the student's arrest was linked to his uncle's activities and his link with the opposition, as he was interrogated on this matter during his detention.

Tabarzadi is still hoping his son will be granted leave from prison.

TUNISIA: Campuses disrupted by fundamentalists

Since October, at least four universities have been disrupted by protests of religiously motivated groups, violating academic freedom and students' rights to education, Human Rights Watch reported on 9 December.

Islamic fundamentalist groups have caused significant disruption to academic activities, including interruption of classes and exams, at the faculty of letters, arts and humanities and the business school of the University of Manouba, near Tunis, the Higher Institute of Theology in Tunis, the school of art and humanities in Sousse and the Higher Institute of Arts and Crafts in Kairouan.

On 28 November, a group of 100 people, students and non-students, entered the University of Manouba's campus, interrupting classes and exams.

Habib Kazdaghli, dean of the faculty of letters, arts and humanities, declared that he was personally threatened outside his office. Despite an attempt to prevent outsiders from entering the campus, intimidations and acts of violence continued, and on 6 December Kazdaghli was refused access to his office by protestors.

Following these incidents, faculty members decided to close the faculty until further notice, calling for police to intervene, which they have not yet done.

Other incidents have involved intimidation of academic staff, especially women professors.

Asma Saidan Pacha, an assistant professor at the Higher Institute of Arts and Crafts in Kairouan, was accused of insulting Islam in her class and was asked to repent publicly while being held down by protestors.

A professor of Islamic studies at the Higher Institute of Theology in Tunis, who asked to remain unnamed, was intimidated for weeks by students claiming that a secular professor could not teach Islamic beliefs (Akida). She has since been given permission to transfer to another university.

Another professor at the University of Manouba's business school, Rafika Ben Guirat, was intimidated by students objecting to her style of dress.

Protestors are calling for the imposition of their own interpretation of Islam in the universities' curricula and campus life. They are also asking for an end to the ban on women wearing the full-face veil in classrooms.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Tunisian authorities to protect academic freedom and individuals from violence and intimidation by fundamentalist groups on campuses.

The organisation has asked for the government's and the university authorities' cooperation in providing security to students and academic staff and preventing outsiders from disrupting academic activities.

Despite a violation of the law, no arrests have been made by the security forces so far.

After President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January 2011, the Tunisian government removed police from university campuses, and currently the police may intervene only if they receive an explicit request from the dean of the institution.

* 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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