GLOBAL: Academic freedom reports worldwide

In Iran former university chancellor Mohammad Maleki, charged with being an "enemy of God", has accused the court hearing his case of being illegal, and theological scholar Ahmad Ghabel has been re-incarcerated to serve a 20-month sentence. In Tajikistan, authorities have opened criminal cases against 22 students who have returned from abroad, apparently to discourage them from contacting extremist Islamist groups. US academics who wrote a book on China's Xinjiang region and were banned by the authorities from entering China, have expressed shock at lack of support from their universities. And in Burkina Faso, three police officers have been jailed for their involvement in the death of a student.

IRAN: 'Enemy of God' academic declares court illegal

Mohammad Maleki, the former chancellor of Tehran University who has been charged as an "enemy of God", accused the court hearing his case - part of Tehran's Revolutionary Court - of being illegal, Radio Free Europe reported on 4 August.

Maleki, the first chancellor appointed to Tehran University after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and a pro-democracy activist, was summoned in late July to the Revolutionary Court.

He is accused of being an "enemy of God" and a threat to Iran's Islamic system because of his alleged links with Mujahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MKO), an exiled opposition party. He is also accused of insulting both Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Iranian Islamic Republic, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as acting against national security. He faces the death penalty.

In a letter to Judge Moghiseh of Branch 28 of Tehran's Revolutionary Court, Maleki explained his decision not to appear in court. He said he considered the court and its sentences unlawful. After pressure from the judge, who rejected his justification, Maleki appeared in court on 30 July only to reiterate his opinion regarding the illegality of the court.

Maleki (78) was one of the older activists arrested in the aftermath of the contested 2009 presidential election. He was detained for 191 days, including three months in solitary confinement, before being released on bail in March 2010.

He strongly rejects all charges against him, especially any involvement with MKO or any other group. He also denies "insulting" the supreme leader, preferring the term "criticising", and says the accusations of acting against national security are comical.

Maleki is suffering ill health and has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and heart disease.

IRAN: Prominent religious scholar back in prison

Ahmad Ghabel, an Iranian scholar of the Qoran and a theological researcher and dissident, was jailed in Mashad on 31 July, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on 2 August.

Previously arrested in 2010 and released on bail, Ghabel was arrested once again on presenting himself to the Mashad Revolutionary Court in July following an appeals court ruling. He was taken to Vakilabad prison to start a 20-month prison sentence.

It appears that his lawyer's request to postpone his sentence until after the end of the holy month of Ramadan, failed. Ghabel was not expecting to be arrested on that date but his wife, Marzieh Pasdar, declared that he was in a good mood when he was taken away.
Considering that her husband has already served half of his prison sentence, Pasdar hopes he will be pardoned.

In September 2010, Ghabel was arrested and charged with acting against the regime and national security, and was sentenced to the maximum of three years' imprisonment, three years' exile from his city of residence and a three-year ban on speeches.
In January 2011 he was released on 530M IRR (US$50,000) bail by Branch 5 of Mashad's Revolutionary Court. He had 16 months of his three-year sentence converted to a 42M IRR (US$4,000) cash fine.

Ghabel is known for his strong criticism of conservatives. He has been arrested several times since 2001 for criticising Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for interviews he gave to international media and for his denunciation of secret mass executions in Vakilabad prison.

TAJIKISTAN: Returning students face criminal charges

Tajik students who have returned to the southern province of Khatlon after studying abroad in the past year face criminal charges, Radio Free Europe reported on 19 August.

Southern Tajikistan's authorities have opened criminal cases against 22 students returning from Islamic universities and religious schools abroad in what appears to be an attempt to warn and prevent the students from being in contact with religious extremists and Islamist groups, including the banned Salafiya, Jamaat at-Tabligh and Hizb ut-Tahrir groups.

Since last year, at least 900 students who were studying abroad at Islamic universities and madrasas have returned to Tajikistan following a call by President Emomali Rahmon to bring students back for fear of their being indoctrinated with radical Islamist ideas.

But the authorities failed to provide returnees with employment opportunities or the possibility of continuing their studies in local state-sponsored religious schools and universities.

Tolibjon Azimov, who is helping the chief prosecutor in the Khatlon Province, acknowledged that this failure was due to negligence and lack of funds and recognised that the authorities have lost track of more than 200 returnees, many of whom apparently left for Russia with the intention of finding better opportunities.

According to official data, around 100 students from Khatlon have not yet returned and are still studying abroad.

One student returning from theology studies in Pakistan, known only as Ahmad, warned the authorities that their treatment of returnees as "enemies" might persuade students to remain abroad and possibly not return at all.

CHINA: No support for blacklisted US scholars

American scholars who co-wrote a book on the north-western Chinese region of Xinjiang have been banned from entering the country. They received no support from the universities employing them, Bloomberg reported on 11 August.

A number of American scholars, co-writers of Xinjiang: China's Muslim borderland, have been blacklisted in response to the publication of the book in 2004.

The academics, some of them from prestigious institutions such as Georgetown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have been denied authorisation to enter China or use Chinese airlines, including the government-owned regional Sichuan Airlines. They were also put under pressure to adopt 'friendly attitudes' towards the Chinese authorities.

The Xinjiang scholars, calling themselves the 'Xinjiang 13', have said they are disappointed by the attitude of the universities employing them, noting their lack of proactive support and action.

Dru Gladney, a member of the group and professor of anthropology at Pomona College in Claremont, California, criticised the university for putting "financial interests ahead of academic freedom".

The sanctions imposed by the Chinese security services on the 'Xinjiang 13' have had negative consequences for their careers, as they have been unable to pursue their research. Justin Rudelson, a former senior lecturer at Dartmouth University who co-wrote a chapter, said he was nearly fired by the university because he was unable to go to China.

The Chinese region of Xinjiang borders seven countries (including Afghanistan and Pakistan) and half of its population are Uighurs, who are Muslims. While it remains a very sensitive topic for the Chinese authorities, the region increasingly attracts interest among scholars, especially since a recent Uighur uprising.

Burkina Faso: Police jailed over student death

Police officers have been jailed for their involvement in the death of a student, which triggered anti-government protests earlier this year, Reuters reported on 23 August.

Three police officers have been given prison sentences by the Ouagadougou high court for their part in the death of Justin Zongo on 20 February while he was in police custody in Koudougou, west of the capital. Two of the officers have each been sentenced to 10 years in prison and a senior officer received an eight-year jail term. No additional details were provided.

Zongo's death was at first officially attributed to meningitis, with police denying any ill-treatment. But the student's death and widespread discontent about the high price of living triggered weeks of anti-government protest across the country.

Violent student protests in several cities led to the death of six students during clashes with the police, damage to public offices and the closure of all universities across Burkina Faso.

To appease protestors President Blaise Compaore, in power since 1987, dismissed his government and the head of the police. The sentencing of the police officers responsible for Zongo's death appears to be the last move to re-establish order in the country.

* Noemi Bouet is a programme assistant at 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.