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EHDR-UK Concerned about Academic Freedom in Eritrea

Nov 20, 2003, 10:24 PST

Academic freedom is a cherished and necessary part of the academic process. Academics have an important function that is compromised when academic freedom is compromised.  Drastic pruning of academic freedom leads to disaster. There are numerous well-known cases in which academics were dismissed or resigned from University of Asmara (UoA) on account of their views on social, economic and political life in Eritrea.


Dr. Abdulkader Saleh Mohammed, who was the Department Chair of Sociology and Social Work and Dr. Alexander Naty, a faculty member of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at UoA were fired from their jobs because they took part in an International Conference of Ethiopian Studies - a conference that was held in Germany in July 03.   Both academics were briefly arrested and then dismissed from their jobs upon their return to Asmara.   According to reports we have received, ‘the academics are well within their rights to attend an academic conference and exercise their academic freedom.   The government labelled their ‘unauthorised’ visit as ‘giving aid and comfort to the enemy’.  There are also reports of similar mishandlings of the academic staff.  It is in such international conferences that we can make our case to our neighbours, the world and influence policy makers.


EHDR-UK is concerned about the lack of academic freedom at UoA and is seriously concerned about the conditions of the academics who are unjustifiably targeted by the government.   Academic freedom is ‘of transcendent value to all of us’ and the government, the President of the University, government enthusiasts and the secret services are violating it.


Eritrea has never enjoyed real academic freedom, not even during post-independence era (1991). The main method used to restrict academic freedom in Eritrea, which is not known to the Western world, is through its tacit operations.  The situation in Eritrea started changing noticeably over the last few years when students and its diasporic population showed a growing keenness to question the government.


Under the current regime, where Eritrea is being ruled without any constitution, the PFDJ Party dominates all cultural and academic activities. Moreover, in Eritrea’s political system, academic activities are monitored regularly not only by PFDJ’s propaganda departments, but also by Dr Woldeab Isaac, the President of the University, who works very closely with government officials.  Many of his colleagues accuse him of curtailing the culture of free inquiry and for running the establishment with a management style that is similar to civil service bureaucracy.  Anyone who exercises his/her academic rights faces penalties, as Dr. Abdulkader Saleh Mohammed and Dr. Alexander Naty did. When those who are entrusted to promote academic freedom are the same ones who are restricting it, as is the case with Dr Woldeab Isaac, then the university is not a place of learning and does not possess transcendent value anymore.  The tragedy is that those very people who benefited from such institutions of higher education are now aiding those who are abating such fundamental freedoms.


Eritrea needs academic freedom because it creates an environment in which faculty members can be outspoken, courageous and unafraid of controversy.  Instead, what Eritrea has now is a political system that penetrates every corner of the society including the UoA. The faculty members of UoA cannot be high achievers if they are denied to possess attributes such as fearlessness and commitment to truth by the government.  


EHDR-UK denounces the harsh actions taken by the government against faculty members of UoA and expresses its concern from unwarranted encroachment by the state.  Academic Freedom is a Human Right and restricting it in any shape or form will prove to be destructive to our nation.



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