GLOBAL: Academic freedom reports from around the world

Senior Chinese researcher Jin Xide has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly leaking information to foreign intelligence agencies about the health of North Korea's leader. In Turkmenistan, the government has slapped restrictions on university students, giving no explanation. Malaysian academic Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid and two other men have been acquitted of possessing prohibited religious books, and in Saudi Arabia 119 academics and activists have called for far-reaching reforms. In Belarus a lecturer and a student remain in jail for participating in mass protests following December's disputed presidential election.

China: Academic jailed for leak on Kim Jong-il's health

Jin Xide, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly leaking information to South Korean and Japanese intelligence agencies about the health of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, Chosun Ilbo reported on 28 February.

Xide was arrested at the beginning of 2009 after speaking out about the deteriorating health of Kim Jong-il and his being sent to Chinese doctors for treatment. He was formally accused of spying for South Korean and Japanese intelligence bodies and of taking a bribe from them.

Xide strongly denied the charges and declared that his activities, including contacts and declarations on South Korean and Japanese agencies and media, were only linked to his academic work as a researcher and deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies.

As a specialist in international relations Xide, who is Chinese of Korean background, was a highly appreciated commentator on North Korean nuclear issues and Sino-Japanese relations reported the Korean Times.

Turkmenistan: Increasing restriction of teachers and university students

Turkmen authorities have increased their control over secondary school and university teachers and students, Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty reported on 26 February 2011.

New restrictions include imposed working hours for school teachers, from 0800 until 1400, regardless of their class hours. University students have been asked to not leave campus before 1800. Those living on the campuses are required to be in bed at 2300, with no permission to study after that time.

Turkmen university and college students were already facing a number of restrictions, including a ban on appearing in foreign media, driving a car, leaving the country, or smoking or using mobile phones on university campuses.

The government did not give any explanation for the new restrictions.

Radio Free Europe suggested that the measures could be seen as an a-political answer to the ongoing protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The article claimed that the decision could also be a preventive measure to avoid a repetition of the incident that happened at the beginning of February at the Ashgabat Polytechnical Institute, where a female student was killed and another injured after a party.

Following the incident, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov sacked the deputy minister in charge of science and education and several senior staff members of the institute.

Meanwhile, singers Maksat Kakabaev and Murat Owezov, one of whom is a university student, were arrested after the performance of their Western-style video on a Turkish music channel.

After being warned not to appear again in foreign media by the Culture and Broadcasting Ministry, they were detained by national security officers. Kakabaev, held in the Yashlyk detention centre, reported that he had been beaten. Owezov has been detained in the Hanghouz district of Mary Province.

Malaysia: Lecturer acquitted of possessing prohibited books

Malaysian associate professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid and two other men, Rosli Yusof and Asmasi Sulaimanm, were acquitted and discharged by the Syariah Lower Court for the possession of prohibited religious books connected to the banned Al-Arqam movement, the Malaysia Starreported on 24 February.

Dr Hamid, a political science lecturer at the University of Malaysia's School of Distance Education, and the two other men were convicted of possessing prohibited Al-Arqam publications at a house in Taman Desa Ara, Sungai Ara, on 1 November 2007 during the birthday celebration of the late Al-Arqam movement founder Ashaari Muhammad.

Following the event, men were charged on 21 February 2008 under Section 13(1) of the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (Penang) 1996, and faced a jail term of up to two years, a fine of up to RM3,000 (US$990) or both.

Alongside the three convicted men, 39 other people, including Ashaari Muhammad's second wife Hatijah Aam, were also charged with defiance of religious authorities or disseminating opinion contrary to fatwa.

According to the Judge Zaini Abd Rahim, who took the decision to acquit them, a number of weaknesses in the investigation made the offence of possession difficult to establish. Mohd Zulkhairi Aziz, head of the Syariah State prosecution, declared his intention to appeal the decision.

Saudi Arabia: Intellectuals speak out for reforms in the Kingdom

In the context of the ongoing protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, more than 100 leading Saudi academics and activists have called on King Abdullah to implement far-reaching political and social reforms, the New York Times reported on 24 February.

In a statement a group of 119 individuals including prominent academics, activists and businessmen, called for reform and warned the monarch of discontent among the youth. They asked for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and for better distribution of wealth among the population.

The King recently took a number of economic and social measures that include interest-free home loans and an increase in permanent contracts. The reform targeting low-income earners, which will cost around 135 billion Saudi riyals ($36 billion), was interpreted as a means to control possible unrest in the Kingdom.

While the King is considered a reformer, he has to balance this with a very influential hard-line clergy. Saudi Arabia faces a number of challenges including a high rate of youth unemployment, a shortage of state housing and limited freedom for women.

Belarus: European Humanities University lecturer and student still in prison

Aliaksandr Atroshchankau and Aleksandr Feduta, a student and a lecturer at the European Humanities University (EHU), are still detained and facing prosecution, according to reports received by NEAR on 23 February from the university.

The presidential poll that elected Alexander Lukashenka for a fourth term on 19 December 2010 was followed by demonstrations in protests against electoral fraud. More than 700 opposition activists were arrested, including 11 EHU students. Ten of the students were sentenced to between 10 and 15 days in prison.

Since then, eight students have been released, although a number of them are facing continued intimidation by the authorities.

Atroshchankau and Feduta are still in prison and have been charged with Article 293 (mass riot), parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code of Republic of Belarus. They could both face a sentence of five to 15 years.

Atroshchankau, a third year student in international law, was also journalist and spokesman for presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov. He was declared by Amnesty International to be a prisoner of conscience. According to the university, his case will be heard in a court of the Frunzenski district of Minsk. However, the date and whether or not the trial will be open are still unknown.

Feduta, a lecturer, journalist and political activist, was a member of the Vladimir Nekliajev presidential election team.

Anastassia Palazhanka, a second year student in political science and European studies, was released on 17 February 2011 after two month in prison. Accused of participating in a mass riot, under the Article 293 of the criminal code, she was facing a sentence of up to 15 years. It is not clear whether she will be prosecuted, but she has been banned from leaving the country.

International organisations have expressed concern over reports on the use of torture and psychological pressure against detainees, and the absence of medical care.

* Roisin Joyce is Deputy Director of 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. Noemi Bouet is an intern at NEAR.