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Title: GLOBAL: Researchers in dangerous times
Publication: University World News
Author: Brendan O'Malley
Published Date:
September 06, 2009


In Guatemala, a leading anthropologist received death threats while excavating mass graves to look for evidence of war crimes. An academic was imprisoned by the Turkish government on 41 charges, for researching torture cases. A researcher in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was held for eight months without trial and tortured for his research on ethnic conflict. In Chad, government agents threw a grenade at a scholar who had researched and written about a past oppressive regime.It is not hard to decipher which research areas are among the most dangerous to be employed in if you read the recent global study on oppression against academics published by the Institute of Education based in New York.

Scholar Rescue in the Modern World, by Henry G Jarecki and Daniela Zane Kaisth of the International Institute of Education and released earlier this year, examined the plight of 847 academics who applied for their programme, which gives grants for relocation to a safe institution elsewhere, as well as the cases of 140 grantees from the 2002-2007 period.

Countless examples are given of academics threatened, arrested or tortured for research on human rights, exposure of government war crimes or corruption, or writing about minority groups, religion or any other sensitive topic.

"What these cases have in common is that the persecuted scholar's academic work is viewed by his or her government or by non-governmental actors as a threat," said Jarecki and Kaisth.

In some countries, any research linking academics to peers across the world or taking them to international conferences immediately puts them under suspicion from a repressive government.

Two leading international researchers were sent to jail in Iran in January, convicted of co-operation with the US government in fomenting a "velvet revolution". Dr Kamiar Alaei and his brother Dr Arash Alaei were found guilty of "communicating with an enemy" because they had taken part in international meetings on HIV/AIDS.

The doctors are both experts on the disease and have worked for many years on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment activities in Iran and internationally.

Rob Quinn, Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk network and founder of the Scholar Rescue Fund, said in many cases the attacks were about maintaining power.

"This is about a very narrow vision of what education is for, both for the individual and for society," Quinn said. "It is really using education as a chance to enforce an alternative world vision, one that says it is okay to structure things through brute force."

The highest number of applications came from countries in the Middle East and North Africa and from Sub-Saharan Africa. The top 10 countries by number of applicants were Iraq (111), DRC (47), China (46), Zimbabwe (34), West Bank & Gaza (30), Nigeria (28), Burma (26), Cameroon (25), Ethiopia (25) and India (25). Iran was close behind with 23.

A Unesco study, Education Under Attack, published in April 2007, found that 286 academics had been killed in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. Since then, dozens more have been killed.


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