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A new report the charity Scholars at Risk (SAR) reveals that the attacks on academic freedom and free speech are part of a growing global crisis.
SAR’s report Free to Think 2017 summarises a year of data collected by SAR’s monitoring project; it includes 257 reported attacks in 35 countries. ‘Attacks’ include killings, violence and disappearances; wrongful prosecution and imprisonment; loss of position and expulsion from study; improper travel restrictions; and other severe or systemic issues including, for example, university closures or military occupation of a campus.
There is a growing trend that, in societies experiencing armed conflict or extremism, higher education communities are perceived as symbols of state authority or sources of potential opposition to radical ideologies. Attacks are generally intended to punish or deter inquiry, or even expression, on unpopular topics. During the past year, SAR found evidence of large-scale violent attacks on campuses in Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, while targeted killings of individuals were reported in Pakistan, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Thousands of people in the higher education sector have been targeted in Turkey where state and university authorities continue to take sweeping measures in retaliation for alleged political links or content of research, publications or teaching. Punitive actions by the Turkish state have included imprisonment and prosecution; dismissal and expulsion of scholars and students; and restrictions on travel and institutional autonomy.
Incidents of violence against organised student expression were reported in increasing numbers this year. In Venezuela, South Africa, Niger, Cameroon, Turkey and India, state authorities responded to nonviolent student protests with force, including with rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades. In some cases, however, students engaged in violent or coercive conduct, including incidents in South Africa, where campus facilities were damaged, and in the US, where physical force was used to intimidate and disrupt certain speakers on campus.
It is shameful that American campuses, once the world’s shining beacon of freedom of speech, have now become part of this oppressive trend.