ETHIOPIA: October conference on academic freedom

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.

The conference and workshop will bring together scholars and leaders in higher education to examine current academic freedom and university autonomy issues in the region, at a time when higher education across Africa is experiencing unprecedented challenges and opportunities.

Case studies from within the region and reports on applicable standards and instruments will provide a platform, we hope, for rigorous discussion. Participants will also be asked to critique and develop a SAR-NEAR proposal for a joint international framework, as well as propose follow-up activities on the national, regional and global levels.

The organisers invite papers on the overall theme with particular interest in case studies discussing academic freedom and autonomy issues from within the region; reports on applicable standards and instruments, especially in the decade since the 1997 Unesco recommendation; and studies of recent reforms in higher education institutions and systems and how these have affected higher education values in practice.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Fatah arrests pro-Hamas students and lecturers

Security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction lat month arrested dozens of Hamas activists, including university lecturers, in the occupied West Bank, Reuters reported. Tensions between Hamas and Fatah reached breaking point after a bombing in the Gaza Strip killed five Hamas militants and a girl. Hamas responded by launching its biggest crackdown on Fatah in Gaza since the Islamist group's armed take-over of the coastal territory a year ago. Fatah has now hit back with arrests in the West Bank.

Abbas's security forces detained more than 50 Hamas activists in the West Bank city of Nablus, including lecturers and students at al-Najah University. Fatah also detained 20 activists in the city of Jenin and another 15 in Tulkarm. Hamas has arrested nearly 200 Fatah officials and activists in the Gaza Strip since the bombing, Reuters said.

SAUDI ARABIA: Calls for women to study abroad without a guardian

Several ministers in the Saudi government have questioned the requirement that female students be accompanied by a male guardian on government-sponsored study abroad trips. Arab News reported that the country's Human Rights Commission asked that the rule be waived if the student's family permitted it. The commission submitted its request to the Council of Ministers, which determines government policy. The requirement to bring a guardian applies only to women who study on government scholarships. Those who study abroad at their own expense are allowed to travel alone as long as they have the permission of their guardians to do so.

IRAN: Amnesty demands release of Iranian students

Amnesty International has called for the release of 12 university students who were arrested at various locations across Iran in July and remain in detention. They were arrested on the eighth anniversary of the student demonstrations held in Iran on 9 July 1999 that were violently suppressed by the security forces. The students are facing various charges, such as 'acting against national security', 'propaganda against the regime', 'propagating lies', 'promoting anti-religious attitudes', and 'disturbing public opinion'. According to Amnesty they are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.

On 8 July 1999, plain clothes police stormed a Tehran university dormitory at night to suppress student unrest that had lasted for five days. A number of students were injured and at least one person, a visitor at the university, was killed. This fuelled further protests and members of the general public joined the students' demonstrations which the security forces suppressed by force.

CHINA: Students sentenced to hard labour

Ten students, who were involved in the Buddhist monk-led peaceful demonstrations in September 2007 in Burma, were each sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour by the Kyauktada Township court, according to the Irrawaddy News, Burma. After the sentence, the students, who were predominantly Muslim, were placed in iron shackles to be transferred to labour camps by order of the Minister for Home Affairs. A prisoner group said there were very few cases of political prisoners being sent to hard labour camps and regarded the harsh sentence as religiously motivated.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Academics protest against curbs on West Bank students

Many Israeli academics have been protesting against the military restrictions that bar many Palestinians from attending universities in Israel, Reuters reports. In a letter to Israel's High Court, five professors complained of a violation of academic freedom and said it made them more vulnerable to boycott campaigns in Europe and elsewhere.

Israel has prevented Palestinian entry since violence began in September 2000 after failed peace talks. Hamas's election victory in January 2006 resulted in the rules being tightened further. According to Reuters, the Israeli Defence Ministry told the court it would permit Palestinians to attend Israeli universities only if it could limit the number of applicants and retain the right to decide who could apply and for which fields of study. University heads have criticised the ministry's proposals as an infringement on academic freedom.

* ETHIOPIA: Rethinking academic freedom in East African universities: A conference and workshop, Addis Ababa, 21-23 October 2008

* Jonathan Travis is programme officer for the Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR).