Scholars at Risk: stellar example of specialized protection tool for Human Rights Defenders

February 12, 2013

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of over 300 universities and colleges in 34 countries dedicated to promoting academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of thought, opinion, expression, association and travel.

Scholars at Risk members save lives by providing sanctuary to professors, lecturers, researchers and other intellectuals who suffer threats in their home country. Through temporary academic positions, SAR members help scholars to escape dangerous conditions and to continue their important work. In return, scholars contribute to their host campuses through teaching, research, lectures and other activities. Many scholars return to their home countries after their visits. When safe return is not possible, SAR staff works with scholars to identify opportunities to continue their work abroad. The benefits are clear: Scholars are free to live and work without fear. SAR members gain talented academics and inspiring, courageous educators. The world benefits from solidarity among universities, greater awareness of current threats to academic freedom, and deeper appreciation of the vital role of higher education and scholarship in free societies.

Scholars at Risk educates the public about attacks on scholars and universities through the SAR website, email bulletins, publications and events. The SAR Speaker Series brings threatened scholars to member campuses to engage directly with students, faculty, alumni and the community. SAR also advocates on behalf of imprisoned scholars and undertakes research aimed at promoting understanding and respect for academic freedom and related values.

In cases involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, SAR intervenes hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably. Robert Quinn is the founding Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk Network, based at New York University.

An example of its urgent action of 12 February 2013 on behalf of Professor Ilham Tohti of China is given below:
Scholars at Risk is concerned over public reports that Professor Ilham Tohti, a public intellectual and economics professor from China, was denied permission to leave China to take up a position as a Visiting Scholar at Indiana University in the United States. Professor Tohti is a professor at the Central Minorities University in Beijing, and he was invited by Indiana University to take up a one-year position as a Visiting Scholar. Scholars at Risk understands that Professor Tohti and his daughter attempted to depart for the United States on February 2nd but were prevented from boarding the plane. Reports indicate that Professor Tohti and his daughter were going through airport security checks when they were stopped by police. Furthermore, SAR understands that Professor Tohti and his daughter were held in separate interrogation rooms, and while Professor Tohti’s daughter was permitted to depart for the United States on a later flight, Professor Tohti was held in custody for 10 hours, before being sent back to his apartment without explanation. …….Therefore, in the absence of any clearly legitimate, publicly expressed grounds for doing so, the apparent restricting of Professor Tohti’s travel suggests serious concerns …… about intimidation of intellectuals generally in China and about the ability to conduct world-class scholarship in such an environment. These are suggestions SAR finds particularly distressing given both China’s rich intellectual history and the important role that China and Chinese universities and scholars in particular should play in the development of knowledge, research and scholarship in the 21st century.

Scholars at Risk therefore respectfully urges the appropriate authorities to investigate the situation and to explain publicly the circumstances of any restrictions on Professor Tohti’s travel or, if there are no official restrictions, to expedite approval of any pending or future travel requests. Followed by detailed instructions on how to write letters, emails and faxes.

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One Response to “Scholars at Risk: stellar example of specialized protection tool for Human Rights Defenders”

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