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ANHRI condemns smear campaign against university professor

(ANHRI/IFEX) - 20 June 2012 - ANHRI has condemned the administrators of Birzeit University in Palestine for succumbing to the pressures of a campaign that targeted Moussa Al Budieri, a professor in the Philosophy and Cultural Studies Department at the university, which is located in Ramallah. The university administrators have undertaken a series of arbitrary actions against the professor after a group of students launched a campaign against him, accusing him of insulting Islam by posting cartoons on a door at the university.

ANHRI said that the actions of the university constitute "a blatant threat to academic liberties and freedom of opinion and expression, and a dangerous step towards opening the door for more suppression of academic liberties at the university."

The Student Awareness Group, which is considered to be a liberal Islamist student party, attacked and launched several blasphemy campaigns against Professor Al Budieri, asking the University to dismiss him because he insulted Islam by posting the drawings.

The events date back to May, when Al Budieri posted the caricatures on a door at the university's library. He had taken the drawings from a website based in one of the Gulf States. The caricatures had also been on published on a Saudi Arabian site. They were originally produced by youth from the United Arab Emirates, with the aim of highlighting inappropriate social practices that have been linked to Islam.

The university administrators sent "envoys" to pressure Al Budieri to refrain from going to the university, and formed a committee to investigate his actions without conducting an investigation into the actions of the students who initiated the attacks on the professor. The Student Awareness Group claimed that Dean of Student Affairs Mohammed Al-Ahmad had confirmed that Al Budeiri would not be returning to the university. Al-Ahmad, however, denied issuing a statement to this effect.

The university administrators submitted to the threats of the Student Awareness Group, whose members do not exceed 200 out of a total of 5000 students attending summer courses. These students have acted in an extreme manner and have also demanded that "severe actions" be taken against the head of the Philosophy and Cultural Studies Department, Abdel ElRahman Al Shiekh, for his involvement in the "crime".

ANRHI expressed its concern over the deterioration in freedoms and liberties at Birzeit University, and the escalation of extremism among students, with the support of some professors. The network said, "Those who do not learn from history do not know that the suppression they practice today against a different or opposing opinion, will be practiced against them someday, under the same principle and with the same justifications."

ANHRI also denounced the silence of the university administrators, other student groups and Palestinian civil society institutions regarding the blasphemy campaign. The organisation denounced the failure to solve the issue involving the professor and called the university's position one of "complicity". ANHRI expressed surprise at the launch of this campaign at a time when Palestinian universities need to be tolerant of academic criticism, saying, "If intellectual disagreements cannot take place inside universities and are instead replaced by suppression such as this, when will the development of critical thought ever happen?"

The network called for the university administrators to bear the responsibility of defending academic freedoms and freedom of thought and expression, and not to submit to threats, whether from university funders or students.

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