A new report published today summarizes attacks on higher education around the world in the past year. It highlights Sudan, where the government, in an attempt to silence dissent, has closed universities and, in a long string of violent incidents, has brutalized and imprisoned students and professors with the intent of quashing protest.
In a separate interview with Al-Fanar Media, one academic leader in Sudan suggested the situation there is now improving.
The report, titled “Free to Think 2019,” was produced by the Academic Freedom Monitoring Project of the Scholars at Risk Network, a nonprofit organization based at New York University. The report describes 324 attacks that occurred in 56 countries between September 1, 2018, and August 31, 2019. Besides Sudan, Scholars at Risk reported on violent attacks on higher education in Afghanistan, Ecuador, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Yemen, and attacks on individual scholars and students in Brazil, India and Pakistan.
Daniel Munier of Scholars at Risk said that the number of incidents has risen every year since the first “Free to Think” report was published in 2015. “The numbers go up every year mainly because our ability to get information has improved,” he said. “We have increased our network of informants, but we fully acknowledge that what we are able to report is probably the tip of the iceberg.”
Two Phases of Oppression
In Sudan, universities have been at the heart of the movement that led to the resignation of the country’s president, Omar al-Bashir, in April. In February, al-Bashir’s government closed the country’s universities in an attempt to prevent protesters from organizing on campuses. (See a related article, “Sudan Shutters All Its Universities.”) Security forces working under al-Bashir and, in the wake of his resignation, the Rapid Support Forces working under the Transitional Military Council, repeatedly attacked students and professors and destroyed university property.
The Rapid Support Forces, which grew out of the janjaweed militia known for its brutality in southern Sudan, engaged in some of the most brutal attacks on higher education. After University of Khartoum staff members started a civil disobedience movement to protest the deaths of 100 peaceful protesters, the Rapid Support Forces engaged in what appeared to be a retaliatory attack. In June, the Scholars at Risk report states, paramilitary forces attacked students and faculty members at the University of Khartoum, killing four people, vandalizing offices, and burning the university hospital.
The report detailed numerous other attacks by security forces on students and professors that involved tear gas, live ammunition, electric-shock batons and raids on student housing.
Commenting on the events described in the report, Nashwa Issa, an associate professor of physics at Al-Neelain University in Khartoum, said in an interview with Al-Fanar Media that “during the period of the revolution, there was a great danger to all teachers involved in the political movement.”