Editor’s note: Do you self censor? Take a survey on self-censorship being conducted by Al-Fanar Media and the Scholars at Risk Network.
In the Arab region and elsewhere around the world, faculty members, students, and campuses have been the targets of numerous attacks over the past year—often for criticizing official policies—according to a new report.
“Free to Think 2020” documents 341 attacks on higher education in 58 countries between September 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020. This is the latest edition of a report put out yearly since 2015 by Scholars at Risk, an international academic network dedicated to protecting threatened scholars and students.
This year’s report finds that the Covid-19 pandemic has played a key role in a number of attacks, imprisonments, and firings.
“We see scientists threatened for research that contradicts messages that states want to project,” said SAR’s Executive Director, Robert Quinn, in a statement. “We see growing pressures on scholars who comment on government response efforts. And we see authorities use the pandemic as a cover to stifle and punish free inquiry and expression generally.”
Among the abuses documented in the report are violent attacks on campuses in Afghanistan, India, and Yemen; wrongful imprisonments and prosecutions of scholars; restrictions on academic travel used most prominently by authorities in Israel, Turkey, and the United States; sustained pressures on student expression in Colombia, India, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and South Africa; and legislative and administrative threats to university autonomy, in Brazil, Ghana, Poland, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and other countries.
Killings and Disappearances
The report documented 124 cases of killings, violence and disappearances of faculty members, students and other academics. (See a related article: “A New Academic Freedom Report Describes Worldwide Attacks on Higher Education.”)
In Iraq, for example, two scholars were killed and a third injured in attacks apparently related to their political views during the past year.
In Egypt, the government arrested four scholars from Cairo University in September 2019 as part of a crackdown on government critics. This past March the government arrested four academics and activists for protesting for the release of prisoners, who, the protesters said, are at a high risk of catching Covid-19.
In Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates scholars were imprisoned by authorities.