Updated: Jul 1, 2020
On June 1, 2020, a group of university students in Baku, Azerbaijan, gathered together for a peaceful protest in front of the Ministry of Education, demanding the cancellation, or at least the postponement, of tuition and fees in public universities for the current academic term, which has been interrupted with the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the declaration of nationwide lockdown in early March, public universities in Azerbaijan transitioned to remote education without sufficient infrastructure; as a result, most classes have not been held. The students organized through social media to raise their complaints about the Ministry’s management of the post COVID-19 conduct of higher education in public universities and stated their intent to file a petition to the Ministry of Education. However, when six protestors walked into the Ministry after being convinced that the minister would listen to their concerns, they were immediately arrested and taken into custody.
Five of the student protestors were charged with pecuniary penalties for breaking lockdown rules and released, but the leader of the student organization that launched the protest, Rüstem İsmayilbeyli, an 18-year old journalism student at Baku University, was imprisoned. He was forced to testify before the court without his lawyer and has not been given permission to see his parents or lawyer since then. Some sources contend that he has been tortured in custody and has gone on hunger strike demanding to be released and cleared of all charges.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide is deeply concerned about the arbitrary detention of students, scholars, and journalists in response to their peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom, free expression, and free association, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both to which Azerbaijan is a party. The ongoing tensions and government pressure over any voice of dissent in Azerbaijan have a profoundly unsettling effect on academic freedom and represent a grave threat to higher education on an international scale.