Students in Human Rights Advocacy Seminar fight for imprisoned scholars


Emily Dvareckas

Students in the Human Rights Advocacy Seminar advocate for the release of wrongfully imprisoned scholars.

Kyla Yates, Herald Contributor

The Human Rights Advocacy Seminar course allows students from Communications, Creative Writing and the Honors Program to come together to advocate for the release of wrongfully imprisoned scholars. The Advocacy Seminar works in collaboration with Scholars at Risk, a non-governmental organization that works to protect scholars and promote academic freedom.

The advocacy seminars, taught this semester by Dr. Robert Cole, allow students to participate in hands-on activities and student-led advocacy to rebut attacks on academic freedom and individual scholars around the world. Students are able to connect with experienced academic freedom advocates, as well as students from other universities who are working on the same cases.

This semester, there are two advocacy seminar groups. COMM.299 students are advocating for the release of Patrick George Zaki, an Egyptian postgraduate student who was studying Women and Gender Studies in Italy and was arrested upon his return to visit family in Egypt on Feb. 7, 2020. He is being held in apparent retaliation for his peaceful human rights research. He has not been permitted a trial, and his prison sentence continues to be extended in 45-day increments. Egyptian law allows this pattern of imprisonment without trial to continue for up to two years.

The CW.451 and HONR.300 students meet together, and they are advocating for the release of three Uyghur scholars who have been targeted by the Chinese government as part of their suppression of Uyghur voices.

Ilham Tohti, an economics professor, has been imprisoned since 2014 and was sentenced to life imprisonment for false charges of separatism. Abdulqadir Jalaleddin is a literature professor who has been held in one of China’s “Uyghur Re-Education Camps” since January of 2018. Rahile Dawut, a scholar of Uyghur studies, disappeared in December of 2017 — her family has not had contact with her since.

What can students do? The main focus of these students’ advocacy this semester is on raising awareness of these scholars’ wrongful imprisonments. Check out the Instagram account @ScholarsinPrisonRWU — the link in the bio will lead students to important petitions that call for the release of these prisoners.

Student-designed posters can also be seen around campus, which provide more information about the scholars and offer free stickers promoting their freedom, as well as academic freedom in general. The students in these seminars ask that people stay informed about these issues and exercise their freedom to voice their concerns about these acts against human rights and academic freedom of expression.