Call to support academic freedom in universities

Egyptian lecturers and academic freedom groups have called on international human rights organisations to support the release of detained academics and students and a halt to violations of rights in universities, in a report that also records the deaths, arrests or fleeing of 212 academics.

Among the 212 faculty who had suffered since the military in Egypt ousted former president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the report said, seven had died, 160 had been placed under arrest, 20 were on parole and 25 were on the run.

The call for international support was included in an18 April report titled "Violation of Academic Freedom in the Egyptian Universities", posted in Arabic on the Al Jazeera website.

It is signed by the Egypt-based Academic Freedom Monitor, the Independent University Group and Universities Against Coup, a body comprising lecturers.

"We demand that concerned independent international human rights committees document the violations that are taking place against us and the denial of the basic human right of freedom of speech. Such [an] environment is intended to smother creativity and any intellectual growth among the faculty and students," the report said.

"We call on these international bodies to support our plea for the immediate release of detained faculty members and students and the stopping of violation of the freedom of association and speech in Egyptian universities."

Since the military-backed overthrow of Egypt's first elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last July, education and science communities have been caught in the political cross-fire of the government's campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government declared a terrorist organisation.

As of mid-March 2014, the report indicated that the Egyptian authorities have done the following:
  • • Arrested 1,347 students and killed 176 students from various universities and institutes.
  • • Police have killed 16 students in raids on campuses.
  • • Five students have died in detention.
  • • Total jail terms against students have reached 594 years.
  • • Bail requirements issued by courts against students have reached EGP3.86 million (US$552,000).
  • • Dozens of students have been expelled and been unable to complete their education because of opposition to the government, without independent investigation into accusations levelled at them.
  • • Hundreds of opposition students have been deprived of government-discounted student dormitories and have been made homeless, impeding their continued education.
  • • Security forces have stormed the campuses of the universities of Cairo and Al-Azhar, using tear gas and live bullets, on a regular basis.

"The academic communities in Egyptian universities, institutes and research centres have been suffering for more than eight months as a result of the arbitrariness and suppression of freedoms by the Egyptian authorities," the report stated.

This included suppression of academic freedom, 'intellectual terrorism', intolerance of opposition, suspension and referral of academics to disciplinary committees, dismissals and random arrests, psychological and physical abuse and fabrication of charges without evidence, and punishment for expressing dissenting opinion or showing solidarity with students.

According to the report, activities and conferences discussing issues related to topics such as power-sharing and civil-military relations or revolutionary youth movements are not welcome in universities and research centres due to restrictions imposed by the government.

These restrictions included messages warning researchers not to participate in international or local scientific conferences or meetings discussing civil-military relations, the report claimed.

"Under these unfair restrictions and censorship restricting academic freedom, many conferences and seminars were cancelled because they included political opposition figures, for fear of discussion of the policies of the regime and the legitimacy of the July 3 regime.

"Within the corridors of Egyptian universities, life has become prison-like, in every sense of the word, where dialogue or expressing a dissenting opinion even on the pages of social network sites, like Facebook, is not tolerated."