CHINA: Academic imprisoned for criticising government

A former professor at Nanjing Normal University and leader of a campaign for competitive multiparty democracy has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by Chinese authorities for alleged 'subversion of state power', the Financial Times has reported. Guo Quan was sentenced on 16 October in Suqian, a city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, four months after the case was filed with the court in June.

Guo had previously criticised the government in a series of open letters to party officials published on the internet, in which he highlighted issues such as their initial refusal of international offers of aid in the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province and the plight of dispossessed peasant landowners and unemployed workers.

In 2007 he founded the New Democracy Party of China, which called for more open and competitive elections. Following this he was fired from his post at the university and had his house raided by police.

The sentence follows recent government crackdowns surrounding dates such as the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic and the 20th anniversary of the massacre of student protestors in Tiananmen Square.

IRAN: Kian Tajbakhsh sentenced to 12 years in prison

An Iranian American academic has been sentenced to at least 12 years imprisonment in Iran for allegedly 'acting against national security' by taking part in anti-government demonstrations that followed the controversial presidential election result in June, Associated Press reports.

Kian Tajbakhsh, a social scientist and urban planner who once taught urban policy at the New School in New York City, was sentenced as part of the mass trial of hundreds of protestors, reformists, journalists and academics accused of attempting to overthrow the government of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in the wake of the elections. Tajbakhsh's sentence is the heaviest given so far and came despite an appeal from the US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.

Tajbakhsh had been arrested previously as the result of his work for the Open Society Institute, an organisation that supports democracy worldwide. He is said to have kept a low profile following this arrest and concentrated on his academic work. He has denied any knowledge or involvement with 'foreign interference' in the protests.

USA: Professor to resign after funding withdrawn

A professor at the University of Alaska has announced his intention to quit after the university rejected his allegation that he lost a $10,000 federal research grant due to his continued criticism of the oil industry.

Rick Steiner, a professor of fisheries and marine conservation, had filed a grievance in February in which he complained that administrators at the university had bowed to pressure from officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to withdraw the grant on the grounds of his vocal condemnation of the environmental damage caused by big oil companies in the region. He alleged that this constituted a breach of his academic freedom.

In October the university rejected his complaint, saying that the federal agency itself had acted to withdraw the grant on the grounds that his work had constituted 'inappropriate advocacy' for a federal extension agent and therefore made him ineligible for funding. The university also stated that after the grant had been withdrawn they had provided the funds for Steiner to continue his research.

In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Steiner said that as his faculty union had decided not to pursue external arbitration he felt that he had no choice but to leave his post.

UK: Criticism of new research funding proposals

The UK's University and College Union (UCU) has criticised new research funding proposals by the Higher Education Funding Council for England which would see 25% of future research assessed according to 'economic impacts'.

UCU claims that allowing government and business concerns to dictate the allocation of funding would constitute a threat to academic freedom and could result in other valuable areas of research being neglected. They fear that if such proposals were acted upon it could lead to academics leaving the UK for countries where such legislation did not exist.

* Daniel Sawney and Jonathan Travis work for the Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR)