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The University of Gothenburg coordinates sanctuary for threatened scholars


Ola Larsmo- I’m unhappy with the fact that the network is necessary, but I’m happy with its existence, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Helena Lindholm said when the Swedish section of Scholars at Risk was launched March 9, 2016. The network protects scholars around the world that are either threatened, persecuted or stand a risk of being censored.

The University of Gothenburg has been a member of the international network Scholars at Risk since 2013, which has made it possible for the University to provide one-year positions of sanctuary to two threatened scholars, one from the Middle East and one from Asia, Vice-Chancellor Pam Fredman said in her welcoming speech at the launch of the Swedish section of Scholars at Risk.

- It is of greatest importance that universities support a freestanding search for knowledge, she continued.

More and more threats towards universities

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Helena Lindholm pointed out that threats towards universities have increased in large parts of the world.

- Recently, on January 20, twenty something students were killed in an attack toward a university in Pakistan. One reason why universities are often selected as targets is that they are open institutions without the kind of security that embassies often possess. Another is that knowledge and power over education are always threats toward military or extremists movements. A scholar can be threatened to life, but also harassed in other ways, for instance being dismissed from employment or stopped from conducting research. But scholars are being persecuted also in democratic countries. One example is Poland, where one of the world’s leading experts on the holocaust stands the risk of losing an honorary title for pointing out Poland’s role in the persecution of Jews.

But the operations at universities and schools are also hit by war and terror. For example, last year 14 million children in the Middle East and Northern Africa were prevented from going to school due to outbreaks of violence.

-The University of Gothenburg was the first university to provide positions of sanctuary to two threatened scholars. And we hope to provide two more positions of sanctuary within short, said Helena Lindholm.

The Swedish section of Scholars at Risk is launched

Without Freedom of Speech no development

Ola Larsmo, chairman of Swedish PEN, told the story about master student Siddhartha Dhar from Bangladesh, who is threatened to life for blogging about evolution theory and religious history on his blog Mukto-Mona.

- He received help from Swedish PEN and now lives in Uppsala. International PEN also cooperates with ICORN, which provides sanctuaries to writers in various cities. Gothenburg has for example provided sanctuary to the Nobel Laureate in literature Svetlana Alexievich. But the increasing threat to free speech is also affecting scholars, as well as writers and journalists. Without the freedom to express one’s thoughts there is no development.

400 universities in 40 countries has now joined SAR

Sinead O’Gorman, the European Director at Scholars at Risk, said that the SAR network now consists of 400 higher education institutions in 40 countries.

-Today we have 536 scholars that need some kind of help. But it is not as simple as letting each university take care of one or two scholars. Instead we match each case to a suitable recipient. To give a position of sanctuary to a threatened scholar is just one way to contribute to SAR’s work. There are also other possibilities to support or organisation.

Scholars at Risk is an international network of 400 higher education institutions in 40 countries dedicated to protecting threatened scholars. Eleven Swedish higher education institutions are today part of the network. The University of Gothenburg was the first Swedish university to join the network and is now the coordinator of the Scholars at Risk Sweden Section. The University of Gothenburg was also the first university in Sweden to give positions of sanctuary to two threatened scholars in 2015.

The Swedish higher education institutions that are members: The University of Gothenburg, Karlstad University, Dalarna University, Karolinska Institutet, University West, Konstfack University College of Arts Crafts and Design, Lund University, Malmö University, Stockholm University, Umeå University and Uppsala University.

Photo: Allan Eriksson