Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, fled to Britain last week after being charged with insulting the King under Thailand's draconian lèse majesté laws. Ungpakorn faced three to 15 years in prison for insulting the King in paragraphs in his book, A Coup for the Rich. Lèse majesté laws are intended to punish "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent".
Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, was charged last week under the kingdom's harsh 'lèse majesté' laws, for comments made in numerous paragraphs of his book, A Coup for the Rich. 'Lèse majesté' laws are intended to protect the monarchy from defamation and those found guilty can face a heavy prison sentence.
The Islamic University in Gaza, an independent Palestinian university established in 1978, has been bombed by Israeli warplanes. The attack took place on 28 December and while the scale of the damage is still not known, reports suggest that a science laboratory was targeted. Fortunately, the university was evacuated before the Israeli assault began and there were no casualties.
Appeals from academics and organisations around the world to University of KwaZulu-Natal authorities were not enough to prevent the resignation of Professor Nithaya Chetty, The Witness has reported. Inside sources claim Chetty was pushed to resign by his own lawyers for fear of further retribution. The highly respected 45-year-old physicist received immediate job offers from a number of South African institutions and has accepted one from the University of Johannesburg.
About 150 staff at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa have put their names to a petition calling on Education Minister Naledi Pandor to intervene in an long-running dispute over academic freedom, writes Sue Blaine in Business Day. The argument has pitted vice-chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba against some of 4,000 staff members, of whom 1,960 are academics, and international academics.
The Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR) and the Scholars at Risk (SAR) Network held a conference and workshop on academic freedom in Ethiopia last month. The event was organised in partnership with the Forum for Social Studies, the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa and the British Council. Faculty members and researchers from 13 countries participated, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine, UK and the US.
A senior member of Britain's Higher Education Academy has noted that many academics teaching and researching terrorism-related subjects are including disclaimers in their course materials as a result of anti-terror laws. According to Times Higher Education, a senior coordinator at the Academy's centre for sociology, anthropology and politics organised a workshop on 'teaching terrorism' at the University of Strathclyde last month in response to the new fears.
Thirty students from the Asia Pacific region will undertake postgraduate study in human rights at the University of Sydney following an A$2.67 million (US$1.83 million) grant from the European Union. The new degree, called Asia Pacific Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation, is the only regional programme of its kind.
A well-known Israeli critic of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank has been slightly wounded in a bomb attack, BBC News reports. Professor Zeev Sternhell is a former professor of political science at Hebrew University who now writes commentary in the Haaretz newspaper. Sternhell, who was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for Political Science earlier this year, has continuously opposed the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The authorities believe ultra-nationalist Israelis were behind the attack.
Scholars at Risk (SAR) and the Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR) have expressed grave concern about the apparent detention of Dr Mehdi Zakerian, an Assistant Professor at Islamic Azad University in Tehran. Zakerian, a scholar of international law and international human rights, has more than 10 years of experience teaching international and Islamic human rights, has more than 50 publications to his name and has recently been appointed Chair of the International Studies Association of Iran.
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.