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Scholars at risk: 332 incidents in 65 countries

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From murder and violence to stalking and intimidation: last year, human rights organisation Scholars at Risk counted 332 attacks on academic freedom in 65 countries, including the Netherlands.

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Non-profit organisation Scholars at Risk has published the seventh edition of "Free to Think", its annual report about violence and repression against university students around the world.

The authors list 110 cases of murder, violence or disappearance and 101 cases of students or researchers being imprisoned. Others were the subject of travel restrictions or had to defend themselves in court.

Hong Kong
A well-known example is Hong Kong, where the Chinese government is restricting freedom of expression more and more. The student movement, which is committed to defending democracy, is getting less and less leeway to take action.

Afghanistan featured a lot in the news as well: the Taliban is restricting the rights of female students and scholars in particular. In fact, several researchers in Afghanistan were killed in targeted attacks even before the takeover.

But one would be mistaken to think the Netherlands is a safe haven. Political party Forum voor Democratie has a hotline for reporting "left-wing" teachers. The report also mentions historians Nadia Bouras and Geert Mak, who were targeted by a group called Vizier op Links (Visor on the Left, Ed.). Bouras found threatening stickers stuck to the front door of her home.

The United States features prominently in the repor. The deep political divide experienced by this country has led to lecturers being sacked, local laws prohibiting the certain anti-racist theories from being taught, and to funding for certain study programmes being cut.

Essential
The report also mentions the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as academics are among the dead and injured. Student activists are among those arrested and scholars have also been imposed travel restrictions. Higher education ought to be kept out of the armed conflict, Scholars at Risk writes, stressing that interventions on a campus should be proportional and essential.

Since 2011, the organisation has logged more than 2,150 incidents across 113 countries. Scholars at Risk calls on authorities and other parties to protect academic freedom. Institutions should also show solidarity with academics who are being harassed and ought to give assistance to displaced researchers, as is already happening in the Netherlands.

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