In a letter to President Yasser Arafat, dated July 16, 1997, Human Rights Watch protests the detention without charge since July 2 of a prominent Palestinian professor. Dr. Fathi Ahmed Subuh, a professor of education at al-Azhar University in Gaza, is also director of the Touffah Educational Development Center, an independent not-for-profit organization that runs an array of community education programs in Gaza. He has been held for two weeks without any official explanation and has been denied visits by his family and lawyer. Dr. Subuh's arrest occurred shortly after he gave an exam to students at al-Azhar University in Gaza asking them to analyze administrative corruption in the university and in the Palestinian Authority, and at a time when the Touffah Center is the subject of ongoing government scrutiny.
A copy of the letter to President Arafat follows.
July 16, 1997
President, Palestinian Authority
Dear President Arafat:
We are writing this open letter on behalf of the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee to express our grave concern over the arrest of Dr. Fathi Ahmed Subuh, a professor of education at al-Azhar University in Gaza, a former Fulbright scholar, and a community leader widely respected for the independence of his views and his pioneering work in preschool and adult education.
Dr. Subuh was arrested at his home on July 2, 1997 by officers of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service (PSS). No charges have yet been filed against him and no explanation has been given for his arrest. Palestinian human rights groups report that Dr. Subuh initially was held in incommunicado detention, was not brought before a judge within 48 hours as required under Palestinian law, and was denied access to a lawyer. Family members report that they were denied visitation rights and that Dr. Subuh started a hunger strike to protest his incarceration. More recent reports state that members of the Human Rights Committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council have been allowed to visit Dr. Subuh, and the Palestinian High Court of Justice has given the PSS eight days to respond to inquiries from Dr. Subuh's attorneys concerning the reasons for his arrest, his lack of access to his attorneys and the procedural irregularities involved in his arrest and detention. Dr. Subuh has ended his hunger strike, but is still being held without charge.
Dr. Subuh reportedly irritated the authorities by giving an examination at al-Azhar University on June 21, 1997 in which he asked students to analyze administrative corruption at the university and within the Palestinian Authority. Dr. Subuh was summoned by the dean of the university, Dr. Riad al-Khoudari, who told him that the university would investigate his academic conduct. He was then arrested. The authorities have denied that Dr. Subuh's arrest has anything to do with his university work, but his unexplained arrest in the midst of the controversy over the exam questions is cause for concern for the entire academic community.
Without clarification of the reasons for Dr. Subuh's arrest, other Palestinian academics cannot be free from fear that their teaching methods might put them in danger of arrest. A university cannot fulfill its paramount role in fostering free inquiry, rational discourse, and open exchange of ideas where professors must work under such conditions.
We are also concerned with the impact that Dr. Subuh's unexplained arrest is having on the NGO community. In addition to his work as a professor, Dr. Subuh directs the Touffah Educational Development Center, an autonomous not-for-profit organization that runs an array of innovative educational programs, including leadership and vocational programs for women, a preschool teacher training program, and literacy campaigns. A number of commentators and acquaintances of Dr. Subuh report that the Touffah Center has been under scrutiny by authorities who view the autonomy of the institution as a threat. Once again, in the absence of clarification of the reasons for Dr. Subuh's arrest, such speculation cannot be put to rest, with negative consequences for the NGO sector as a whole.
As educators who share the interests of our colleagues around the world when their rights are jeopardized, we respectfully request an explanation of the legal basis for the arrest of Dr. Subuh and specification of the evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Dr. Subuh. In the absence of such evidence, we urge that Dr. Subuh be released immediately and unconditionally. We also respectfully call on the leadership of the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the autonomy of universities and other institutions of civil society is respected.
Thank you for your consideration of these important matters. We look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.
Co-Chair Human Rights Watch
Academic Freedom Committee
Acting Executive Director
Human Rights Watch/Middle East
cc: Mr. Freih Abu Meddein, Minister of Justice, Palestinian Authority
Colonel Mohammed Dahlan, Palestinian Preventive Security Service
Palestinian Liberation Organization/United Nations
Dr. Riad al-Khoudari, Dean, al-Azhar University, Gaza