Committee on Academic Freedom – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 21 Oct 2021 17:30:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.18 Protesting Israeli Army Arrest of 45 Palestinian University Students https://www.juancole.com/2021/07/protesting-palestinian-university.html Thu, 22 Jul 2021 04:01:28 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=199015 Middle East Studies Association
Committee on Academic Freedom

Letter Protesting Israeli Army Arrest of 45 Palestinian University Students, and Ongoing Detention of 15 after a Solidarity Visit to a Demolished Home in Turmus ‘Aya

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet et al. . . .

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Brigadier-General, and Chief Clerk,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to demand a halt to the Israeli military’s ongoing violence against students, faculty and staff at Palestinian universities.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On 14 July, the Israeli army detained forty-five Palestinian students, most of whom are from Birzeit University (BZU), following a solidarity visit to the Shalabi family, whose home in Turmus ‘Aya had been destroyed by the Israeli army the previous week. Israeli soldiers detained these students at Turmus ‘Aya village, northeast of Ramallah, for several hours. According to the Right to Education Campaign at BZU, nearly 30 of the BZU students were then transferred to an unknown location. BZU’s lawyer confirmed that 8 students were then released, followed by two more the next day. Currently, 15 students remain detained, five of them in the Moscobiya prison and 10 others in Ofer prison. These students were to be brought before a military court on 15 July, but their hearings have all been postponed and the students remain in detention. This targeting of Palestinian students is an attempt to undermine students’ right to organize and support the political struggles of their people.

As we have detailed in previous letters, these arrests, subsequent brutal interrogations, and imprisonment are not only a clear violation of the basic rights of the individuals themselves; they are also part of a larger policy that directly targets thousands of Palestinian students, disrupts their education, and undermines the role of Palestinian academic institutions. The Israeli army has been particularly aggressive in targeting students at BZU, and these latest arrests follow the same pattern that the Israeli army and security forces have established over the last several years in a broad campaign targeting Palestinian students in the West Bank [see our many letters, for example, 28 June 2021, 12 April 2021,11 April 2019, 22 January 2019, 13 March 2018]. Currently, there are more than 300 Palestinian students in Israeli prisons. Our committee has repeatedly written to you to protest these arbitrary arrests [see letters dated 11 May 2020, 24 September 2019, 22 January 2019, 8 August 2018].

The practices described above are part of a long-standing but intensifying pattern of Israeli violations of students’ rights to free speech and peaceful protest. Furthermore, these arbitrary arrests are violations of the right to education enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. As a party to the UDHR and a signatory of the ICESCR, Israel is obligated to uphold these conventions. Hence, it must ensure the rights of the Palestinian people to education. We call upon you to cease these arbitrary arrests immediately and unconditionally, release all of these students, and protect Palestinian students’ right to education.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

cc:

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories

James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section

Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah

Palestinian delegation to UNESCO

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer – Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) – European Parliament

The Honorable Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Kati Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament

Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Via Committee on Academic Freedom

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Israeli Security Forces assault a number of Birzeit University students at the road

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Protesting Ongoing Israeli Army Arrests, Detention of University Students in Occupied Palestine https://www.juancole.com/2021/04/protesting-detention-university.html Thu, 15 Apr 2021 04:04:23 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=197235 By Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association.

To: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Education Yoav Galant, Minister of Higher Education Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Justice Avi Nissenkorn, Brigadier General Rasan Alian, Head of Civil Administration in the West Bank, Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Chief Clerk Init Malul, Supreme Court of the State of Israel

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Brigadier-General, and Chief Clerk,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to once again urge a halt to the Israeli army’s targeting, arrests and ongoing imprisonment of students and staff at Palestinian universities. As we have detailed in previous letters, these arrests and subsequent violent interrogation and imprisonment are not only a clear violation of the basic rights of the individuals themselves; they are part of a larger policy that directly targets students and undermines the role of academic institutions for thousands of students living under occupation. The Israeli military further escalated its attack on the Palestinian student movement on 21 October 2020, officially labeling a student bloc at Birzeit University in the West Bank, a “prohibited terrorist organization,” thereby officially criminalizing students for their political work on campus. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the harm the Israeli army and judiciary inflict on students at all levels of education through these arrests.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

According to Palestinian sources, including the Palestinian Prisoner Society and Addameer, Palestinian Support and Human Rights Association, there are currently about 300 Palestinian students in Israeli prisons. These detentions are emblematic of the Israeli policy of targeting and disrupting Palestinian higher education. Students, professors and employees on Palestinian campuses have been targeted by the Israeli military, as indicated by, for example, the continued detention of Imad Barghouthi, Professor of Theoretical Space Plasma Physics at Al-Quds University (see our letter dated 21 September 2020). Our committee has repeatedly written to you in the past to protest these arbitrary arrests (most recently, see letters dated 11 May 2020, 24 September 2019, 22 January 2019, 8 August 2018).

The Israeli army has been particularly aggressive in targeting students at Birzeit University (BZU). Over seventy currently registered BZU graduate and undergraduate students are incarcerated in Israeli prisons. According to the Right to Education Campaign at BZU, over the course of the first semester of this academic year (September 2020 through February 2021), the Israeli army arrested twenty-one students; each student endured a period of interrogation, often without access to legal representation or advocacy. Seventeen of these recently arrested students remain in prison. Three are being held in so-called administrative detention: Muhammad Zayton, Rami Karajeh, and Sufyan Maqdadi. Fourteen students have been subjected to violent interrogation, including physical and psychological torture; they were subsequently charged and now await trial: Muhammad Abu Hawa, Muslim Tamami, Omar Abu ‘Aqil, Ahmad al Khatib, Osama al Sufi, Zayn Qadomi, Ahmad Khroub, ‘Amro ‘Aqil, Nadir Uwaidat, Muhammad Qasim, Mutasim Ballah Zaylom, Hazim Uwaidat, Yu’ad Abu Ayash, Abbas Abu ‘Alyia, Husayn Qaddora, and Shatha al-Tawil.

Among these recent arrests is Shatha al-Tawil, who is now detained along with her classmates Elia Abu Hijleh, Ruba ‘Assi and Layan Kayed (about whom we wrote on 19 June 2020) in Damon prison. Shatha and Ruba, like Elia and Layan, as well as Mais Abu Ghosh before them (about whom we wrote on 11 May 2020) have undergone physical and psychological torture. Elia has now been sentenced to 16 months in prison and a fine of 6000 NIS. Shatha and Ruba have been charged; they await trial and sentencing. All three were charged simply with involvement in student organizations on campus.

These new arrests follow the same pattern that the Israeli army and security forces have established over the last several years in a broad campaign targeting Palestinian students in the West Bank. Among these students are Omar al-Kiswani (about whom we wrote on 11 April 2019, 2 January 2019, 13 March 2018), whom the Israeli army took captive from the heart of the university campus. Omar was subjected to prolonged interrogation in the Moscobiya detention center in Jerusalem. His lawyers report that he endured physical and psychological torture. He has subsequently been charged and sentenced to 50 months with a 55 000 NIS fine. On 2 April 2020, Muhammad al-Majid Hasan, like Omar al-Kiswani, was subjected to prolonged interrogation at the Moscobiya detention center. Muhammad endured forty days of interrogation, during which he was diagnosed with the Covid 19 virus. Muhammad was later sentenced to a 14-month prison term. The Israeli army also arrested Muhammad’s brother, Abd al-Majid Hassan, on 30 March 2021. After interrogation, many of these students face the prospect of extended detention without trial.

The detention and sentencing of these students are examples of the ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian students by the Israeli authorities. They are part of a pattern of Israeli repression of Palestinian students, and clearly violate students’ rights to free speech and peaceful protest. Furthermore, these arbitrary arrests are violations of the right to education enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. As a party to the UDHR and a signatory of the ICESCR, Israel is obligated to uphold these conventions. Hence, it must ensure the rights of the Palestinian people to education. We call upon you to cease these arbitrary arrests immediately and unconditionally, release all of these students, and protect Palestinian students’ right to education.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California

cc:

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Micharl Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories

James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section

Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah

Palestinian delegation to UNESCO

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer – Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) – European Parliament

The Honorable Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Maria Arena, Chair of the Europeans Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Kato Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament

Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Featured Photo: Bir Zeit University, h/t wikipedia.

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Mr. Erdogan: Cease Turkish Gov’t Campaign against Boğaziçi University, Students, Faculty and Institutions https://www.juancole.com/2021/02/campaign-university-administration.html Wed, 10 Feb 2021 05:02:16 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=196058 Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America

H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
President of the Republic of Turkey
T.C. Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genel Sekreterliği
06689 Çankaya, Ankara
Turkey

Dear President Erdoğan:

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our outrage over the escalation of the government-sanctioned campaign against Boğaziçi University and its professors. We wrote to you on 4 February 2021 to express our dismay concerning the detention and mistreatment of Boğaziçi University students protesting against the appointment of Melih Bulu—a member of your political party—as rector of the university. We now write to condemn both attacks against the university’s faculty and your politically motivated decision to alter the academic structure of Boğaziçi University.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Since our letter of 4 February, protests against Bulu’s appointment and police violence against Boğaziçi students have not only continued, but have spread across Turkey, leading to a new wave of arrests in multiple cities. As a response, you, your government, and the pro-government media have resorted to the now familiar strategy of deploying the language of terrorism to stifle dissent. After calling protesting students “a group who lost their ties with our country and nation mentally and at heart,” you promised to “show no mercy for those who are involved in terrorism.” When Boğaziçi students sought to establish a channel of communications with your office, publishing an open letter voicing their concerns, your government not only spurned their request but arrested a student that you arbitrarily held accountable for the students’ social media activities. At the same time, your government’s Communication Director, Fahrettin Altun, released a video message in English, accusing Boğaziçi University of being a hotbed of “radicalization” leading students to join terrorist organizations. The video, splicing together disparate scenes from demonstrations to suggest that protesters were led by “vandals” and “terrorists,” ends with a pledge to “shed light on the darkness that turns some of our nation’s brightest students into terrorists.” No doubt, the video is addressed to international audiences: it is an attempt to manipulate public opinion abroad and to legitimize horrific attacks on protesters by recasting their response to your government’s actions in terms of counterterrorism. This effort by your government’s Communications Director amounts to little more than heavy-handed propaganda. It also attests to what protesting students and faculty, and indeed all political dissidents in Turkey, now face: criminalization, demonization and partisan online lynching campaigns financed by the state’s public coffers.

Boğaziçi faculty support for the protests is growing, as indicated by the faculty’s collective decision that none of them would be willing to serve as a deputy or advisor to the newly appointed rector. Faced with this defiance, your campaign against the university has now been extended to its faculty. In a speech you gave on 5 February 2021, you personally targeted Boğaziçi Professor Ayşe Buğra—an internationally renowned scholar of political economy who has been on the faculty since 1985—on the basis of both her family ties and her professional identity. Professor Buğra is the spouse of Osman Kavala, a philanthropist businessman and a rights defender who has been in pre-trial detention for over three years, despite a European Court of Human Rights decision calling on your government to release him. In your speech attacking Buğra, you described her as “the wife of the person who is called Osman Kavala and the representative of Soros in Turkey” and claimed she was “among these provocateurs,” with “provocateur” serving as your preferred term for describing university professors who exercise their free speech rights to express opposition to your government’s policies. The pro-government media immediately echoed your words. For example, a religious far-right daily, which serves as a hate speech platform and an instrument of public lynching campaigns against dissidents and intellectuals, published the names and pictures of five female Boğaziçi professors under the headline “They are not academics but terror-supporting militants.” The story under the headline alleged that there was a “militant group” of 33 Boğaziçi professors instigating protests, “manipulating an education army 900 strong.” The newspaper accused the professors of supporting various groups designated as terrorists by your government, such as the PKK, DHKP-C, and “FETO”, while also accusing them of having taken an active role in the Gezi uprising of 2013. Labeling professors with defamatory terms such as “PKK shield”, “veteran activist”, and “pro-traitor,” these media reports all but invite harassment and vigilante violence against them. Nor are professors alone in being targeted for supporting the Boğaziçi protests: Independent MP and prominent journalist Ahmet Şık now also faces the charge of “engaging in overt provocation to commit a crime.”

Beyond these troubling developments, your government has also directly targeted the institutional structure of the university, using the powers you have concentrated in your own office and person to devastating effect. In a midnight presidential decree on 5 February 2021, you ordered the creation of two new faculties at Boğaziçi University—one in law and the other in communications. There can be no question that the creation of new faculties or departments at a university without consultation with its faculty and administration represents a new low in the authoritarian governance of universities in Turkey. Moreover, this move appears to be a blatant power grab designed to install your own cadres of academics as new hires to the university under the authority of the rector you installed. In light of the size of comparable faculties of law and communications at other universities, current estimates suggest that you will have the opportunity to appoint 40 to 70 academics to the law faculty and 40 to 70 to the communications faculty, radically changing the composition of the university’s academic personnel and fundamentally altering the university’s structure. The complete disregard for the university’s needs, resources, strategic plans, and, most importantly, its traditions of self-government and academic freedom is staggering. This decree, which undermines the academic integrity of one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities, is sadly consistent with your government’s disgraceful record of battering the country’s best educational institutions and undermining the autonomy and quality of higher education in Turkey.

The disregard for Boğaziçi University’s resources and strategic plans is especially stark in this case as the university has previously considered expansion into new academic fields but ultimately decided against such a course due to the limited size of the campus and its urban environment. The aggregation of power in your office that enables you to unilaterally override the considered decision of the university is itself a novelty that bespeaks the diminution of academic freedom and civic rights in Turkey. You have the power to establish new faculties by decree only because of a prior decree (KHK 703), issued during the state of emergency in 2018. The decree changed the relevant clause of the Higher Education Law, removing the role of the Council of Higher Education (YÖK)—and, indirectly, the role of the universities themselves—in the process of establishing new schools within existing universities. The erosion of the autonomy of the institutions of higher education in Turkey under your leadership, which we addressed in our letter of 20 January 2021, has now entered a new phase.

Finally, we are deeply concerned by several media reports indicating that your systematic attacks on Boğaziçi may relate to your government’s ambitions to seize the university’s prized land on the hills of the Bosphorus (estimated to be worth more than $3.4 billion). According to these sources, your government plans to relocate the university to a new campus, confiscating the current campus by presidential decree. These rumors are consistent with your government’s troubling record of privatizing public assets and engaging in politically motivated retaliatory attacks against universities. We wrote to you about precisely these issues in our letter of 20 May 2020 concerning the case of Istanbul Şehir University, the assets of which were seized as part of your political conflict with former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, a founder of that university. If the rumors concerning your plans for Boğaziçi University are correct, any such move will mark new heights in your assault on the principles of higher education, institutional autonomy, and academic freedom.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. The rights being trampled by your government’s actions are also enshrined in articles 25-27 and 42 of the Turkish Constitution.

We encourage you to engage with Boğaziçi University’s faculty and students directly, rather than targeting them in public speeches and inviting partisan media to follow suit. The students of Boğaziçi University invited you to such an engagement with their open letter of 6 February 2021. We urge your government to immediately cease using terrorism as a pretext to stifle dissent, and desist from targeting and inciting harassment of the Boğaziçi faculty. We further ask that your government restore the tradition of university self-government in Turkey, withdrawing not only Bulu’s appointment as rector of Boğaziçi University, but also rescinding the legal framework that enables you to make appointments of university rectors or unilaterally alter the structure of universities by presidential decree.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California

cc:

Ibrahim Kalın, Chief Advisor to the President and Presidential Spokesman

Mustafa Şentop, Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı (President of the Turkish National Assembly)

Abdülhamit Gül, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Adalet Bakanı (Justice Minister of the Republic of Turkey)

Yekta Saraç, Türkiye Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu (YÖK) Başkanı (President of the Turkish Higher Education Council)

Ziya Selçuk, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Milli Eğitim Bakanı (Minister of Education of the Republic of Turkey)

Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer for the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament

Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Fiona Knab-Lunny, Member of Cabinet of Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Hannah Neumann, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Raphael Glucksmann, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Christian Danielsson, Director-General for Enlargement at the European Commission

Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Kati Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament

Nacho Sanchez Amor, Member of European Parliament and European Parliament Standing Turkey Rapporteur

Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Koumbou Boly Barry, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education

Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Rektörlüğü (Office of the Rector of Bogazici University)

Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Mezunlar Derneği (Bogazici University Alumni Association)

Matthew A Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary, United States Department of State

Via Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association

See the original letter on the Web.

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Letter regarding ongoing denial of Palestinians in Gaza right to study abroad https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/regarding-ongoing-palestinians.html Thu, 19 Nov 2020 05:02:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194499 Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association

Letter regarding ongoing denial of Palestinians in Gaza right to study abroad

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Fax: +972-2-5664838
pm_eng@pmo.gov.il

Minister of Education Yoav Galant
Fax: +972-2-5602390
yoavg@knesset.gov.il

Minister of Higher Education Ze’ev Elkin
Fax: +972-2-2649438
zelkin@knesset.gov.il

Minister of Justice Avi Nissenkorn
Fax: +972-2-6285438
mancal@justice.gov.il

Brigadier General Rasan Alian
Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration
Fax: +972-2-6599133
mnz@mgar.co.il

Chief Clerk Init Malul
Supreme Court of the State of Israel
Fax: +972-2-6759648
pniotelyon@court.gov.il

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Brigadier-General, and Chief Clerk,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to urge you to permit the student identified as S.O. in the 21 September Haaretz story entitled “Palestinian Student Wants a Visa to Europe? Let Him Do Research in Gaza” to take up their doctoral studies in Europe. They have already missed the start of the academic term that began 1 October. Hence, we urge you to expedite their passage to Europe. Moreover, we call on you to cease obstructing the departure and return home of Palestinian students who have been accepted to graduate programs abroad.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The Gaza District Coordination and Liaison Administration (DCO) initially refused to respond to S.O.’s request for an exit permit. In response, Gisha, the Israeli human rights organization committed to supporting freedom of movement for Palestinians, petitioned the Be’er Sheva Courts, on behalf of S.O., to compel the DCO to issue the permit. After reviewing the case and associated petition, the Be’er Sheva District Court called for a broadening of the parameters for granting exit permits, and urged the DCO to consider the specific case of S.O. However, the DCO rejected a broader set of parameters and denied the exit permit.

Meanwhile, S.O. was continuously re-scheduling consular appointments in Tel Aviv for their European visa, their scholarship and future studies jeopardized by a legal, military, and administrative system unconcerned with their right to an education. In their third hearing before the Be’er Sheva courts, Judge Gal Gidion ruled that S.O.’s case was indeed humanitarian and that, subject to a Shin Bet security check, they must be permitted to exit Gaza, as required by the DCO, in order to interview at the consulate of a European country in Tel Aviv.

The DCO rejected this ruling and petitioned the Supreme Court. In their ruling on 23 September 2020, Supreme Court Justices Neal Hendel, Anat Baron and Yosef Elron claimed that students wishing to study abroad do not meet the criteria for “exceptional humanitarian cases.” We strongly object to this interpretation of academic freedom and freedom of movement. The right to education is enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. As a party to the UDHR and a signatory to the ICESCR, Israel is obligated to uphold these conventions, and to apply them in their definition of what constitutes a humanitarian need.

The Supreme Court has upheld a framework limiting educational opportunity to ill-defined exceptional humanitarian circumstances. Over the last decade, this framework has been instrumentalized by the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to prevent countless students, particularly in Gaza, from taking up scholarships and educational opportunities abroad. This framework has also been used to prevent students from returning home after completing their studies.

The Supreme Court’s ruling denies S.O. their right to an education abroad and violates international conventions. It also sets a precedent for further restricting the right of Palestinian students to leave Gaza to pursue their education through thinly argued and narrowly defined parameters of what constitutes “humanitarian need.”

We call upon you to immediately cease these violations of Palestinians’ right to education and movement, and to do all that is in your power to enable S.O. to obtain the required approvals for exit in order to take up their studies abroad and, if they so wish, to return home.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California

cc:

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner of Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, European Union
Benny Gantz, Ministry of Defense

Via Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Gisha Org “If Only – Young Palestinians in Gaza on What Freedom of Movement Means to Them”

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Israel: Nearly 100 Palestinian students arbitrarily arrested and detained by Occupation, often without trial https://www.juancole.com/2020/06/palestinian-arbitrarily-occupation.html Sat, 20 Jun 2020 04:02:53 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191595 Middle East Studies Association / Committee on Academic Freedom |

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu
Fax: +972-2-5664838
pm_eng@pmo.gov.il. . . Et al. . . .

Brigadier General Rasan Alian
Head of Civil Administration in the West Bank
Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories
Fax: +972-2-6599133
mnz@mgar.co.il

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, Ambassador, and Brigadier-General,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to urge a halt to the Israeli army and security forces’ practice of arbitrary arrests of Palestinian students. These arrests not only affect the individuals themselves, but also obstruct academic life for thousands of students. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the harm the Israeli army inflicts upon students at all levels of education through these arrests.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2,500 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Over the past academic year, and in a clear escalation of these detentions, more than eighty (80) Palestinian university students and at least five schoolchildren were arbitrarily arrested; all have been interrogated, many are being detained without charge and have been denied access to legal representation. Recently, on 22 April, two Birzeit University students, Abd al Rahman ‘Alawi and Muhammad Hasan, were detained. On 21 May, Israeli forces arrested three other Palestinian students: Basil Barghouti, ’Iz Shabbaneh, and Mahdi Karajeh. On 5 June, Munthir Yasin was arrested by IDF soldiers as he crossed the Hawara checkpoint in southern Nablus, and Yahya al-Qarut was arrested at his home in Tulkarm. Wisam Uwaidat was taken into custody at a checkpoint near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim on 7 June, and on 8 June, IDF soldiers arrested Layan Kayed near Za’atara checkpoint.

Many of these students face the prospect of extended detention without trial. Samah Jaradat – about whom we wrote to you on 24 September 2019 – was released after a nine-month detention in Ramle prison and Shatha Hasan after five months. Both of these students were subjected to physical harassment and psychological torture. Mais Abu Ghush, a Birzeit University student, was also subjected to torture, and on 3 May, she was sentenced to 16 months in Damon prison, despite our 11 May 2020 letter calling for her release.

These arrests, detentions and imprisonments are part of a broad campaign to target Palestinian students in the West Bank. Palestinian sources suggest that there are now 300 Palestinian students in Israeli prisons. These students are all active in movements and student councils on their campuses. These recent arrests are a continuation of an undeclared but indisputable Israeli policy of targeting and disrupting Palestinian higher education. Our committee has written to you in the past to protest the repeated arbitrary arrests of Palestinian scholars and students (most recently, see letters dated 11 May 2020, 24 September 2019, 11 April 2019, 8 August 2018, 22 January 2018) and we condemn these unwarranted actions in the strongest possible terms.

The detentions described above are grave violations of Palestinians’ rights to academic freedom, as well as of their right to education as enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. As a party to the UDHR and a signatory to the ICESCR, Israel is obligated to uphold these conventions. Hence, it must ensure the rights of the Palestinian people to education. We call upon you to immediately cease these arbitrary arrests unconditionally, release the detained students from prison, and protect Palestinian students’ right to education.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California

CC:

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories

James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section

Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah

Palestinian delegation to UNESCO

Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer – Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) – ‎European Parliament

Via Middle East Studies Association / Committee on Academic Freedom |

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Why Is Israel Illegally interfering with Western Professors Teaching at Palestinian Universities? https://www.juancole.com/2019/07/interfering-palestinian-universities.html Thu, 18 Jul 2019 04:05:16 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=185333 Middle East Studies Association of North America, Inc.

3542 N. Geronimo Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85705

520 333-2577 phone
520 207-3166 fax

caf@mesana.org
www.mesana.org

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu
Fax: +972-2-566-4838
pm_eng@pmo.gov.il

Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked
Fax: +972-2-628-5438
mancal@justice.gov.il

Minister of the Interior Aryeh Machluf Deri
Fax: +972-2-670-3733
sar@moin.gov.il

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett
Chairman, Council for Higher Education of Israel
Fax: +972-2-649-6011
nbenet@knesset.gov.il

Ambassador David Melech Friedman
US Ambassador to Israel
Fax: +972-2-624-2560

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, and Ambassador,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our dismay regarding the severe and unreasonable limitations imposed on foreign nationals who are faculty members at Birzeit University (BZU) and other Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza. These faculty, some of whom have been teaching for years in Palestinian universities, now have to deal with a wide range of arbitrary demands and conditions in order to obtain re-entry visas that permit their employment in Palestinian universities. Moreover, for the past three years, the Israeli authorities have increasingly denied visas – both new and re-entry – to such academics. These restrictions severely imperil the quality of Palestinian education and the right to education of Palestinian students.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2500 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We previously wrote to you on this matter on 6 August 2018. Like peer institutions across the world, Palestinian universities employ academics and administrators who are foreign nationals. For the past three years especially, these faculty and staff members have encountered numerous arbitrary measures imposed by the Israeli occupation authorities which endanger their employment and the quality of their research. These measures include: changing documentation requirements without prior or official notification; lengthy processing periods that force applicants to overstay valid visas or leave the country; shortened and arbitrary duration of visas; the issuing of visas that allow the holder to reside and work only within the West Bank; restrictions on ports of entry/exit; and demands for financial bonds of 20,000 to 80,000 NIS or 5,600 to 22,500 USD. The application of such measures has not been transparent, and hence foreign nationals are unable to determine if they can accept a job offer from a Palestinian university, if they will be able to continue their employment for the duration of the appointment, or if, as a university employee, they would be permitted to travel abroad for academic conferences or for conducting research. Indeed, travel to a conference –in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East –or making a research trip to an archive, including archives in West Jerusalem, could threaten the future employment of these professors, thus negatively affecting the quality of the scholar’s research.

Because of these arbitrary and opaque measures, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of international academics in Palestinian universities. A survey conducted in February 2018 by the Palestinian National Authority’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education showed that the previous two academic years (2016/2017 and 2017/2018) were exceptionally difficult for foreign nationals. The job security of US, British, Dutch, French, German, Indian and Jordanian citizens working as faculty and staff in several Palestinian universities (Al-Istiqlal, Al-Quds Open, An-Najah National, Birzeit, Hebron, Kadoorie Palestine Technical, The Arab American, Jenin, and the University of Palestine in Gaza) was under severe threat: over half of these scholars faced denials or restrictions on entry and residency. Israeli authorities denied twelve entries into the country and at least 20 academics are currently facing obstacles to extending/securing visas.

Denials or restrictions on entry and presence have been particularly devastating for BZU. Almost all foreign national academics and staff, from chairs to administrators, have encountered problems in visa renewals over the past year. The denial and restrictions of entry and residency visas have harmed the daily functions of BZU: teaching, instruction in foreign language, curriculum planning, committee work, supervising theses and papers, conducting research — in short, everything that academics do to ensure the proper training of students and the quality of their research. Some of these professors began to work at the university more than a decade ago and have long-standing connections, not only with students and colleagues, but also with the community in which they live. The situation deteriorated further in June 2018, when Israeli authorities denied visa extensions to seven international faculty members, one-third of the international staff at the university. In the 2018-2019 academic year, eight international faculty of nineteen were denied visa extensions or entry.

These measures have short-term and long-term effects. In the short term, they jeopardize academic and administrative work in these universities. In the long term, they imperil the right of Palestinians to education, isolate the Palestinian community from the rest of the world, and may eventually cause severe harm to the educational and employment opportunities of the next generation of Palestinian students.

We condemn, in general, the ongoing constraints imposed by the Israeli authorities on the higher education sector in the West Bank and Gaza. We condemn, in particular, the denial of the right to education of the hundreds of students in the West Bank who have been taught and mentored by these professors, and the imposition of capricious and cruel measures on our colleagues. These measures violate principles that should be protected, and indeed cherished, in any democratic state and are in contradiction of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. As the occupying power, Israel must maintain the functioning of Palestinian civil institutions, including Palestinian universities. In other words, Israel is obliged to maintain a transparent policy that allows the entry and presence of foreign faculty and staff members in a manner that does not harm or endanger Palestinian higher education. It is obligated, as well, to ensure the right of the Palestinian people to education. The right to education is enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966), an obligation ratified by Israel.

We therefore call upon you to ensure that these professors can renew their visas, and that the academic restrictions, whose sole purpose is to make it exceedingly difficult for foreign nationals to work in academic institutions in Palestine, be abolished immediately. We join the call from Birzeit University, Al-Haq, and Adalah–the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel–for an immediate halt to this policy of targeting Palestinian academic freedom and Palestinian institutions of higher learning. We ask that Israel lift the restrictions preventing international academics from staying and working in the West Bank, refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions on the duration of stay or extension of stay for international academics, and order the publication of a clear and lawful procedure for issuing entry visas and work permits for international academics in the West Bank, to enable the university to manage and maintain its academic freedom.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Judith E. Tucker
MESA President
Professor, Georgetown University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California

Via Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association

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Turkey Must Stop Prosecuting, Imprisoning Scholars for Signing a Peace Petition (Yes) https://www.juancole.com/2019/06/prosecuting-imprisoning-scholars.html Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:07:54 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=184758 Committee on Academic Freedom
Middle East Studies Association of North America, Inc.

H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
President of the Republic of Turkey
T.C. Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genel Sekreterliği
06689 Çankaya, Ankara
Turkey

Dear President Erdoğan:

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our alarm at recent developments in the prosecution of scholars who signed the declaration “We will not be a party to this crime”—commonly referred to as the “Academics for Peace Petition.” In numerous previous letters, we have criticized the broad pattern of persecution of petition signatories and other academics under your government particularly over the course of the last three years. We write now again to respectfully urge your government to desist from repressing academic freedom and freedom of expression for scholars, researchers, and both undergraduate and graduate students in Turkey. In particular, we call on your government to desist from the prosecution of petition signatories and abandon the expansive interpretation of anti-terrorism provisions—extending to many forms of peaceful advocacy—that stifles critical inquiry, scholarly research and political dissent in your country.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2500 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Since the Academics for Peace Petition was published in January 2016, 610 academics have been required to appear in court on various charges associated with being signatories of the petition. Of this group, a large number have been given suspended sentences for a duration of less than two years, including the following: 134 academics have been sentenced to 15 months in prison, 18 academics have been sentenced to 22 months and 15 days, 8 academics have been sentenced to 18 months, and 2 academics have been sentenced to 18 months and 15 days. The remainder who have been sentenced have received prison terms of longer than two years. Sentences exceeding 24 months may not be suspended under Turkish law so this latter category face the real possibility of imprisonment. Those facing such longer sentences include the following: 17 academics sentenced to 27 months, 6 academics sentenced to 28 months, 4 academics sentenced to 25 months, and 1 academic sentenced to 36 months of jail time. In our previous letters we noted that there is no clear legal basis for the variation in the length of sentences being handed down to individuals who are all similarly situated in that the charges against them stem uniquely from their having signed the same petition. Of the 192 individuals who have been given prison sentences, a total of 29 have been sentenced to more than 2 years and thus denied the possibility of a suspended sentence. In addition, 6 of those who have been sentenced declined the opportunity to have their prison terms suspended. At the moment a total of 35 academics are at imminent risk of imprisonment.

Of the 6 academics who declined to have their sentences suspended, one has now been imprisoned. Dr. Füsun Üstel is a distinguished academic who received her BA and PhD from Ankara University School of Political Sciences and has served on the teaching faculty of both Ankara University and Galatasaray University. She has written numerous articles and books on Turkish nationalism and national identity, and is an established and well-regarded scholar. Dr. Üstel became the first peace petition signatory to begin a prison sentence when she submitted herself to Eskişehir Women’s Closed Prison to serve her 15-month sentence on 8 May 2019. Her prison sentence was previously upheld on appeal by the 3rd Panel Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice on 25 February 2019. Article 107/4 of Law no. 5275 on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures states that people who are sentenced to prison “on terror charges” are required to serve three quarters of their prison terms in penal institutions. Hence, Dr. Üstel will be held in prison for 11 months before being eligible for release on probation.

Among those academics sentenced to 25 months and thus denied the possibility of suspended sentence is Ayşe Gül Altınay, Professor and Director of Gender Studies at Sabancı University, Istanbul. Altınay received her PhD from Duke University and published on militarism, memory, violence, gender and sexuality, including Women Mobilizing Memory (forthcoming, Columbia University Press, 2019). Another academic facing a 25-month sentence is Leyla Neyzi, also Professor at Sabancı University. Neyzi received her PhD from Cornell University and was the recipient of MESA’s Malcolm H. Kerr dissertation award in 1992. She has published on oral history, memory studies, youth and social movements. As is evident from these short descriptions, your government is electing to threaten with lengthy prison sentences some of the leading scholars in your country.

The arbitrariness of the court decisions that impose varying lengths of sentence on individuals being prosecuted on the same charges has been on full display this spring. In one striking example, on 27 March 2019, the İstanbul 27th Heavy Penal Court announced 15-month sentences against two academics on charges of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” pursuant to Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law. Yet the same court on the same date also sentenced academic Ali Kerem Saysel to 2 years and 6 months in prison on the same charges. Dr. Saysel, Professor of Environmental Sciences and Head of the Division of Environmental Sciences at Boğaziçi University, is an associate editor of the System Dynamics Review and is lead author for the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)’s first global assessment. In short, an academic of international renown, Saysel was given a lengthier prison sentence on what appears to be entirely arbitrary grounds. The prison sentence of Saysel was differentiated in the Court’s minutes from the other two with a notation concerning “the gravity of intent,” aggravating his sentence without offering substantiating evidence. While this lengthy sentence cannot be suspended, Saysel is currently appealing the judgment. His colleague at Boğaziçi University, Koray Çalışkan, was subsequently also given a lengthy sentence of two years and three months – this time by the 37th Istanbul Heavy Penal Court on 10 April 2019. We have written to you on prior occasions when Dr. Çalışkan faced harsh treatment by your government; we note, once again, that like others who have been singled out for heavier sentences, he is being subjected to arbitrary and unjust punishment for engaging in protected activities.

The arbitrary nature of the sentences issued in the cases against petition signatories was also evident on 20 March 2019 when the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court issued four sentences to four signatories, each of whom was on trial for the same act of signing the same petition that demanded peace. Whereas two of the signatories received 15 months and a third received 18 months, the fourth was sentenced to two years and six months in prison. While the first three sentences have been suspended, effectively placing the defendants on probation, the fourth defendant, Dr. Zeynep Yelçe, is facing imprisonment pending an appeal. The reason cited for Dr. Yelçe’s heavier sentence is, again, “the gravity of her intent.” Dr. Yelçe is a distinguished scholar; a historian of the early modern Ottoman Empire, she is the author of Ideal Kingship in the Late Medieval World: Ottoman Principles and Perceptions (2010), as well as numerous articles and chapters; she is also the translator of several books into Turkish.

Another worrisome development is that signatories who are based outside Turkey are beginning to be sentenced. Baki Tezcan, Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, like other petition signatories, is charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” As we explained in our earlier letters of 17 October 2017, and 21 March 2019, the indictments issued against Peace Petition signatories contain serious errors including the outlandish claim that the petition constitutes evidence of coordination with the PKK. The outlandishness of this claim has now been acknowledged by the US Department of Justice in its response to a request issued by the 27th High Criminal Court to collect Dr. Tezcan’s testimony. The US Department of Justice wrote the following paragraph as a response to the request:

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for broad freedom of expression and, as a result, prohibits criminal prosecution of speech except in narrowly defined circumstances. As you know, the limits to this protection include situations in which the speech comprises a true threat or incites imminent violence. In this case, there has not been a sufficient showing in this regard. If there are other facts pertaining to this matter that have not been included in this request, e.g., information indicating an endangerment or objectively credible threat to Turkish lives, we will gladly consider them. However, without additional information, we will not be able to assist with the execution of this request, since we are of the view that the request implicates the above-described principles protected by our Constitution. We consider these principles to be essential interests, and Article 22 of the Treaty allows for the denial of a request where its execution would prejudice essential interests.

The Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court responded to this letter by issuing an arrest warrant for Professor Tezcan on 30 January 2019, rather than providing any tangible evidence that could actually connect him, a signatory for peace, with the PKK, thus confirming our belief that these cases are baseless.

A final troubling incident is the arrest of Associate Professor Tuna Altınel on 11 May 2019. Professor Altınel, who teaches at Lyon-1 University, was arrested per Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law because of a conference he attended in France. Altınel was taken into custody in Balıkesir where he had gone in order to inquire about a restriction imposed on his passport. He was referred to an on-call court operating on the weekend by the Prosecutor’s Office to be arrested and sent to Kepsut Type L Prison. Altınel is also a signatory of the above-mentioned Academics for Peace Petition and was charged with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization;” his trial is currently under way in Istanbul’s 29th Heavy Penal Court.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to abandon the course currently being pursued and return to earlier practices in line with ensuring that these rights are protected.

We respectfully repeat our numerous requests that your government take immediate steps to drop all criminal charges against signatories of the peace petition. We also ask that your government desist from broadening the use of antiterrorism laws in ways that criminalize the legitimate and protected activities of academics. In light of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms under your administration, taking steps to protect academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association would be an important step to address growing concerns about human rights in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Yours sincerely,

Judith E. Tucker
MESA President
Professor, Georgetown University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California

Middle East Studies Association
3542 N. Geronimo Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85705

520 333-2577 phone
520 207-3166 fax

caf@mesana.org
www.mesana.org

——–

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Observatoire Turquie Contemporaine: Kader Konuk: “Challanges to Academic Freedom in the 21st Century” (Only first 20 seconds are French, then English for the talk)

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