Contemporary threats to academic freedom are global, diverse and mounting. The ICNL-commissioned report Closing Academic Space published in March found “repressive and potentially repressive government practices against higher education institutions, including academics and students, in more than 60 countries”, including Hungary, Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, Egypt and China.
Challenges to academic freedom and autonomy in Europe, particularly the EU, now seem alarming, despite significant resistance. A couple of causes célèbres illustrate the point. On Wednesday 27 November, the distinguished constitutional law scholar Professor Wojciech Sadurski faced the first hearing in one of three SLAPP lawsuits brought against him under civil and criminal defamation laws by Poland’s governing Law and Justice party and the public broadcaster, TVP. Various actors have stood in solidarity with Professor Sadurski. In the run-up to the hearing, constitutional law scholars launched the #WithWoj hashtag, following an open letter on the Verfassungsblog in May; ARTICLE 19 submitted an amicus curiae brief, live-monitored the hearing and, together with other NGOs, issued a statement.
On Friday 15 November, my institution, the Central European University (“CEU”) officially inaugurated its Vienna campus, having been forced to move its US accredited degree programmes from Budapest as a result of amendments to Hungary’s higher education law adopted in April 2017 (“Lex CEU”). The subsequent fight to defend CEU spurred street demonstrations, the #IstandwithCEU hashtag and thousands of statements of support – including from academic institutions and associations, Nobel Laureates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the late former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a network of freedom of expression NGOs. It also motivated the adoption of the Utrecht Declaration on Academic Freedom by human rights academics.
These cases raise a number of individual human rights issues and deep concerns about the implications of restrictions on scholars and universities for democracy and the rule of law across societies. They further prompt questions about the definition, scope and place of the notion of “academic freedom” in international law. Read the rest of this entry…