Tuesday 6 December 2016

President warns of threat to academic freedom

Published 30/11/2016 | 02:30

President Michael D. Higgins attends the Scholars At Risk Ireland Event 'Ideas Are Not Crimes' at the Trinity Long Room Hub at Trinity College. Photo: Steve Humphreys
President Michael D. Higgins attends the Scholars At Risk Ireland Event 'Ideas Are Not Crimes' at the Trinity Long Room Hub at Trinity College. Photo: Steve Humphreys

President Michael D Higgins has warned of the growing global threat to academic freedom and democracy, just days after he controversially paid tribute to Fidel Castro.

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He faced widespread criticism for calling the late Cuban leader "a giant among global leaders" in spite of Castro's record of killing and torturing political opponents.

The President has since insisted that he had consistently raised Castro's record of human rights abuses.

He refused to discuss the issue further after signing a book of condolence on behalf of the people of Ireland at the Cuban embassy on Monday, which also generated some controversy.

Trinity College Provost Patrick Prendergast referred to the President as a "noted campaigner" for human rights when he welcomed him as guest speaker at a conference on the threats to academic freedom yesterday.

Read more: Ian O'Doherty: None of us should be surprised at El Presidente's fawning over West's last socially acceptable despot

Meanwhile, the President warned of "the sheer scale and gravity of the contemporary attacks on academic freedom globally" as he praised the work of Scholars At Risk, (SAR), a global network of academics at 450 universities in 40 countries fighting the persecution of students and professors of higher learning.

"The most extreme form of this alarming trend is the repeated occurrence of extreme violence by armed groups who do not hesitate to storm university premises to kill and injure, as well as the many cases of killings of individual scholars and students," he said.

SAR recorded 158 attacks on academics and students in 35 countries over the past 16 months, including 40 reported killings, disappearances and acts of violence.

Irish Independent

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