Global: Academic freedom reports from around the world

Roisin Joyce*

20 February 2011

Issue: 159

A student leader has been abducted by authorities in the province of Balochistan in south-west Pakistan. In Belarus an associate professor has been fired after attending a mass protest over December's disputed presidential election, and in Turkey a sociologist has been tried and acquitted of charges for which she had already been twice acquitted. In South Africa, the Council on Higher Education has suppressed a university audit following complaints by the vice-chancellor that it was "biased", and in Malawi lecturers went on strike after a colleague was interrogated by a local police chief over an example he gave in a political science class.

Pakistan: Student leader abducted

A student leader from Balochistan was abducted on 9 February while returning from an internship, the Asian Human Rights Commission reported on 16 February.

Fareed Ahmed Baloch is a final year student at the Balochistan Engineering and Technology University and president of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO-Azad) of the district of Khuzdar in Balochistan.

He was abducted from outside the check-point of Frontier Corps (FC) in Quetta, the province capital of Balochistan in south-west Pakistan. He was returning from an interview for an internship at Pakistan Telecommunications, a public sector company.

Baloch was stopped at the check-point by FC representatives and others in plain clothes, and taken away in a jeep without a registration number. His cousin, who he was travelling with, was beaten when he tried to intervene. His current whereabouts are unknown.

The province of Balochistan has been the scene of an armed secessionist movement since 2000, and the area has born the brunt of the government's retaliatory actions, including disappearances and undeclared arrests by security forces that cannot be traced by courts and are not acknowledged by the government.

According to a 4 February report by the BBC, the Balochistan home department recently issued a list of 992 missing people, who their relatives claim were picked up by intelligence services.

According to the BBC, other 'disappeared' students include Chakar Khan Marri, who was abducted by the Frontier Corps in September 2009 when he and eight other students tried to meet with the principal of their college regarding student complaints. His body was later found.

Abdul Hai, a 20-year-old student, was abducted in August 2009. According to his father, "the FC picked up Abdul Hai outside his college in the presence of his colleagues. When I tried to meet the colonel concerned, he refused to see me. We went to the court, but nothing happened."

Belarus: Professor fired for taking part in protest

Andrey Vilkin, an associate professor in the physical training department at the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU), has been fired after attending a mass protest over December's disputed presidential election, Radio Free Europe reports.

Vilkin, who is also head of the Shotokan Karate Federation, was arrested on 19 December, along with his wife, for attending the protest. He was found guilty of attending an unsanctioned mass gathering and sentenced to 15 days in jail. reports that Vilkin served his sentence at a detention centre in Zhodzina. Later, the university administration made him agree to termination. His wife, Svyatlana Vilkina, served a day in prison.

According to Radio Free Europe, Vilkina wrote an article for the Russian-language newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussia (Soviet Belarus) last month in which she said that she and her husband did not participate in the demonstration but saw their son there and went to talk to him.

On 19 December, armoured police vehicles were sent to Minsk central square where protestors had gathered to challenge early election indicators that gave Alexander Lukashenko victory in the country's presidential vote.

According to the Guardian, exit polls gave Lukashenko 72% of the vote and his closest competitor, former deputy foreign minister Andrei Sannikov, just 6.33%.

By contrast, the independent polling agency Romanchuk said Lukashenko had failed to achieve the 50% needed to win the election without a second round. It said Lukashenko was polling at 38%.

Participation in mass gatherings that have prior approval is legal in Belarus. But critics, who see the country as an effective dictatorship, doubt that a protest against the current government would ever be approved.

Turkey: Academic tried and acquitted for third time of same charges

Pinar Selek, a writer, sociologist and founder of the Amargi Women's Solidarity Cooperative, was tried and acquitted on 9 February for charges for which she has already been twice acquitted, reported Bianet.

In 1998 Selek was accused of involvement in an explosion in the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul, and membership of the banned PKK (Turkish Workers Party), a subject of her academic research.

Imprisoned for two and a half years, she was released following conclusions from a team of experts that the explosion had in fact resulted from an accidental spark in a gas cylinder.

Despite these findings, in December 2005 a new trial was opened against her, ending with her acquittal in June 2006. During her imprisonment, it is alleged that Selek was tortured under investigation in an attempt to make her confess to the charges.

Selek, currently residing in Germany, was tried in absentia on 9 February and, for the third time, acquitted of all charges.

Public Prosecutor Nuri Ahmet Saracoglu requested that the Court of Appeals Criminal Chamber issue a life sentence against Selek. The court maintained its previous decision and once again ruled for Selek's acquittal.

Selek's defence team was pleased with the verdict but voiced concern over the fact that such a case was brought in the first place.

Defence lawyer Ak?n Atalay spoke to Bianet after the hearing, saying: "This decision was actually expected. It is in accordance with the law and the legislation written by the state. But the procedures until now were so unjust that we are even happy about this normal decision that should have been given anyway. We expect the prosecutor not to appeal."

It is believed that the persecution of Selek is directly related to her legitimate academic work researching Kurdish issues in the mid-to-late 1990s and related contact with the PKK.

According to information received by PEN International, there is no evidence demonstrating that Selek was ever a member of the PKK or has been involved in violent activities.

Following her latest acquittal, Bianet reported that Selek has applied to the European Court of Human Rights and demanded a "new just prosecution" and "compensation for non-pecuniary damage". Bianet reported that she had also applied to the Strasbourg court on the grounds of "failing of a fair trial" and "exposure to torture".

South Africa: Controversial university audit suppressed

An independent audit of South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) that suggests management's habitual disciplinary action against staff stifles dissent and restricts academic freedom, has itself been suppressed, reported the Mail & Guardian on 14 January.

This followed a lengthy saga initiated by Vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba's complaint that the audit showed "bias", according to the Mail & Guardian.

"In an unprecedented move the Council on Higher Education (CHE), a statutory body that advises the government on tertiary education, has decided not to release its own audit report, based among other things on 400 interviews with UKZN staffers."

The CHE has been conducting institutional audits since 2004 and, until it reached UKZN, had published all its audit reports. To date, 21 of the country's 23 universities have been audited, reported the Mail & Guardian.

The CHE-appointed panel that audited UKZN was chaired by Martin Hall, then deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, now vice-chancellor of the University of Salford in the UK. The panel conducted its interviews at UKZN in October 2008.

"Part of the standard CHE audit process is that the panel provides oral feedback to the university concerned along the lines to be presented in its final, written report. On behalf of the panel, Hall presented this feedback at UKZN in October 2008 in a lengthy session streamed live on the campus to anyone who wanted to follow it," said the Mail & Guardian.

In an article in the Mail & Guardian, Hall suggested that the oral feedback made 45 points. Four of these concerned "institutional culture and academic freedom" and described a "culture of hostility", deriving from adversarial relations between management and academics that "stifled debate".

All previous CHE audits have been published within a year of oral feedback but by last November UKZN's had not appeared. Then in December a document, "Resolution on the Institutional Audit of the University of KwaZulu-Natal", appeared on the CHE website. It stated that the CHE had decided to withdraw the audit report following a sequence of events that began in June 2009 when Makgoba was sent the draft report and complained of "bias" on the part of Hall and the report's "general tone".

In another article in the Mail & Guardian by Shirley Brooks, a former UKZN lecturer and now a senior lecturer at the University of Free State, argues that the CHE must reverse its decision not to publish the UKZN audit report if it is to retain any credibility when it conducts university audits in future.

Malawi: Academic interrogated over lecture content

Lecturers went on strike at Chancellor College in Malawi in support of a colleague who had been interrogated by the police chief over an example given in his political science class, Afrique en Ligue reported on 16 February.

Dr Blessing Chinsinga, a political science lecturer at Chancellor College, the main college of the University of Malawi in the eastern city of Zomba, was interrogated by Inspector General Peter Mukhito for allegedly inciting students to act against President Bingu wa Mutharika.

This was based on accusations that Chinsaga had told students that protests and opposition movements resulting in a change of government, such as recent developments in Egypt, can be ignited from situations like the current fuel crisis in Malawi.

Although Chinsaga was not detained, the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union spoke out against the incident.

CCASU president Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula stated in a letter to the college principal: "We are alarmed and saddened by this development which infringes upon academic freedom...we would like to inform you that members of staff are afraid to teach until there are guarantees and safeguards that academic freedom will not be infringed upon again by the police or any other authority."

The student body is in solidarity with lecturers at the college, according to statements from the Chancellor College Students Union president, Lonjezo Sithole.

* Roisin Joyce is Deputy Director of the Network for Education and Academic Rights, NEAR, a non-profit organisation that facilitates the rapid global transfer of accurate information in response to breaches of academic freedom and human rights in education.


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