Title: Scholar Persecution Widespread Says Study
Publication: University World News
Author: Brendan O’Malley
April 19, 2009
Scholars are being harassed, attacked, jailed and even targeted for assassination in a wide range of countries across the world, according to a new study published by the Institute of International Education. The persecution occurs at all levels of scholarship, in many different fields, and among men and women although women are targeted most.
"The goal is to silence their voices and, by extension, the voices of intimidated colleagues and students within the wider academic community," say the report's authors, Dr Henry Jarecki and Daniela Z Kaisth, respectively IIE vice chair and vice president, strategic development.
Among the examples cited is a law professor in Colombia who received threats for speaking out on human rights. His house was visited by eight armed men that night but he had already escaped into hiding.
A journalism professor in Pakistan faced arrest and assassination after publishing a letter to an editor that was critical of the Prophet Muhammad. He escaped but the newspaper was burned down. A political science professor in Zimbabwe, who discussed with his students the failings of the state under Robert Mugabe's dictatorship, received threatening phone calls, was followed daily and eventually detained, handcuffed and beaten badly by police. After his release he fled the country.
The report calls for the establishment of a UN convention to protect scholars from harassment, imprisonment and violence. "When academics are specifically targeted, no mechanism exists within the international community to hold the perpetrators of such crimes accountable," the authors say. "A specific convention to accomplish this goal would raise awareness of the need to protect scholars without regard to nationality."
Scholar Rescue in the Modern World bills itself as the first attempt to share the breadth and nature of the persecution of scholars globally. Its analysis of 847 applications for help from the IIE's Scholar Rescue Fund over five years from 2002 to 2007 found the worst affected regions were Sub-Saharan Africa, with 38% of applications, and the Middle East and North Africa with 23%.
In Africa, the highest number of cases occurred in Democratic Republic of Congo (47 cases), Cameroon (25), Ethiopia (25) and Zimbabwe (24). In the Middle East, nearly all cases occurred in three countries: Iraq (111 cases), the West Bank and Gaza (30) and Iran (23).
The worst-affected country is Iraq where 280 academics were reported to have been killed in the four years after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. According to Jarecki, who also chairs the SRF, the actual number of scholars killed or kidnapped in Iraq is now thought to have exceeded 1,000.
In three out of four cases around the world the perpetrators were government agents. The victims were targeted because they represented political opposition, Jarecki said: "But there also seems to be an anti-intellectualism at work."
In one out of four cases the perpetrators were non state agents such as terrorists, militias, paramilitary personnel, rebel forces and religious groups.
The New York-based SRF saves the lives of endangered academics by providing support for one to two years work at universities in safe countries. It rescued 140 scholars over the period covered by the study, finding host institutions, providing salaries and helping victims adjust to life in the new country.
The report underlines the need for more robust action from the international human rights community to combat scholar persecution and for rapid international responses to emerging crises such as the campaign of assassinations of intellectuals in Iraq.
It calls for sharing of information and data and the establishment of centres of excellence for persecuted scholars, to gather rescued academics who can share concerns and propose solutions.
The report also urges the US government and other states to create special visa categories and quotas for threatened scholars to make it easier to bring them to safe countries.
The report will add to calls voiced at a UN Assembly debate on education in emergencies in March and in a 2007 Unesco study, Education Under Attack, for international action to protect students, teachers, academics and education officials who are increasingly targeted in conflicts.
For academics, the threat of persecution seems to exist not merely in conflicts but, with some notable exceptions, is most likely to be found in poor, failing states, with low levels of academic and press freedom, where the number of scholars as a proportion of the population is low.
"Whatever the definition of academic freedom may be, professors should not be physically threatened, jailed, tortured or killed," Jarecki and Kaisth say. "Silencing scholars is an offence against the global community."