Kurdish student Habibollah Latifi has been sentenced to death by an Iranian court, convicted of 'endangering state security', the Kurdish Globe has announced. Latifi is the third Iranian Kurd to receive a death sentence in less than a month in what appears to be developing into a blatant campaign against ethnic minorities. In late July, two teachers, Anwar Hossein Panahi and Arsalan Oliaii, were also handed death sentences. According to the Globe, six Iranian Kurds are now on death row, including award-winning journalist Adnan Hassanpour. All have been convicted of endangering state security and 'relations with illegal political organisations'. Amnesty International recently expressed concern about the increased repression of Kurdish Iranians, particularly human rights defenders.
The Network for Education and Academic Rights, Scholars at Risk Network, British Council Ethiopia, the Forum for Social Studies and the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa are organising a conference and workshop in Addis Ababa to discuss academic freedom in the region.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about the arrest and detention of Professor Matrouk al-Faleh, a political scientist at the King Saud University in Riyadh. Al-Faleh was arrested on 19 May following the publication two days earlier of a report he wrote critical of conditions in the state security prison system.
A senior academic at Birbeck College, University of London, is facing disciplinary action for holding an end-of-module revision session. The Guardian reports that Dr Bernard Casey has run his extra economics session for the last 18 years and has never been paid for his time - all he has asked of the university was the use of a room for an hour or two which, up until now, has been supplied. But this year, things were different and Casey faces disciplinary action for the potential 'detrimental impact' caused by his holding the revision session.
Hundreds of university students were involved in a demonstration in Jakarta last week to demand answers over the death of a recently incarcerated colleague. Thousands reportedly gathered outside the parliament building, burning tyres and throwing rocks at police. In addition, around 1,000 protestors toppled the parliament building's fence while an effort to set a police vehicle on fire was foiled by police officers.
British Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell hosted a debate with members of the University College Union this month - the first in a series of events designed to create lively discussion on academic freedom. In recent weeks, academics have attacked the government for creating a 'climate of fear' on campus that led to the arrest and release without charge of a Nottingham University student and administrator for printing a copy of the al-Qaida training manual.
A Nottingham University student and a staff member were detained for nearly a week under British terrorism laws for attempting to print 'controversial' documents on campus. Politics student Rizwaan Sabir was arrested after downloading an edited version of an al-Qaeda handbook from a US government website and sending it to an administrative member of staff, Hashim Yezza, for printing. Sabir is writing his MA dissertation on Islamic extremism and international terrorist networks, and many academics regard the downloaded material, which is publicly available, as a relevant piece of research.
Academics from the Universities and College Union have been accused of attempting to revive the intensely controversial academic boycott of Israel by calling for lecturers to consider their links with Israeli institutions and lobby contacts over the Israeli occupation.
During his recent visit to America, Pope Benedict XVI told leaders of Roman Catholic colleges and universities that academic freedom was of upmost importance - but did not justify promoting positions that violated the Catholic faith. The Pope said that church teaching should shape all aspects of campus life and that Catholic educators had a profound responsibility to lead the young to truth. Benedict reaffirmed academic freedom values but said attempts to use academic freedom to justify positions that contradicted the teaching of the church would betray the university's identity and mission, Time Magazine reported. Benedict's talk contained no concrete policy directives but emphasised the compatibility of faith and reason.
The second conference on academic freedom in Arab universities took place in Amman, Jordan, at the end of March and agreed to establish a permanent committee to deal with academic freedom issues in Arab countries. The event was organised by the Amman Centre for Human Rights Studies, the Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR), the Scholars at Risk Network, and the United Nations University International Leadership Institute. The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK also participated.
Academics in countries around the world endure attacks on their freedom to conduct research, to speak out publicly on political and social issues, and to teach students through their own examples how to become independent-minded. In many places, academics have been imprisoned or even killed because they offended the government. In Iraq, the number of assassinations and kidnappings of academics continues to grow. Figures obtained from the London-based Council for Assisting Refugee Academics and other sources reveal that more than 300 Iraqi academics have been killed since the invasion in 2003.