20 February 2019

Universities strengthen efforts for academic freedom

Scholars at Risk

Six Danish universities, including the University of Copenhagen, have opened a Danish branch of the international network organisation Scholars at Risk. The organisation, which is based in New York City, works to protect scholars who receive threats to their lives, are subjected to violence or perhaps imprisoned because they work with controversial topics or express criticism in the public debate.

Scholars at Risk Denmark Section aims to strengthen Danish universities’ efforts to support scholars who are being prosecuted.

The University of Copenhagen has been a member of Scholars at Risk since 2016, during which time the University has offered sanctuary and employment to two prosecuted researchers as well as issued two letters of support: One to the imprisoned Iranian scholar Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali) and one to Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. The University has decided to finance five one-year positions to prosecuted scholars through Scholars At Risk for a five-year period.

Rector Henrik C. Wegener (UCPH) and director Robert Quinn (Scholars at Risk in New York) signs the contract about opening a Danish section of SAR. Photo: Jens Fink-Jensen.

“By setting up a Denmark section we want to signal that Danish universities support global academic freedom – like Norway, Sweden, Finland, the UK and Germany are already doing," says Rector Henrik C. Wegener from the University of Copenhagen.

In prison for research

The launch of Scholars at Risk Denmark Section was marked by a panel debate event about academic freedom on 18 February 2019 at the University.

“Sometimes scholars are attacked because of what they say, other times just because they ask questions,” said Robert Quinn, Director of Scholars at Risk, who attended the launch of the Denmark section.

Last year, 294 attacks on university employees were reported, according to the Scholars at Risk annual report “Free to think 2018". 88 of the 294 individuals who were attacked are in prison and 79 are reported missing, killed or subjected to violence. The rest are either prosecuted, fired, or may have had their passports detained.

The head office in New York is the primary point of contact for scholars at risk, and they organises contact the member universities. The national SAR sections make this easier.

The participants at the launch of Scholars at Risk Denmark Section. From left: Rector Hanne Leth Andersen (RUC), director Jonas Christoffersen (The Danish Institute for Human Rights), rector Henrik C. Wegener (UCPH), director Robert Quinn (SAR), SAR-scholar Mubashar Hasan (UiO), prorektor Inger Askehave (AAU), souschef Josephine Lethenborg (SDU), forskningsdekan Søren Hvidkjær (CBS). Foto: Jens Fink-Jensen.