Today, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) nominated Egyptian researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy for the Courage to Think Award, granted by the US-based Scholars at Risk Network. Santawy’s defence of freedom of research and promotion of academic freedom have inspired researchers in Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa region, especially those who face repressive practices. The nomination of Santawycomes at a time when he has been on hunger strike for 35 days in protest against the four-year prison sentence issued against him by the Emergency Supreme State Security Court.
Granted every two years, the Courage to Think Award recognizes individuals, groups, or institutions that have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to protecting scholars and promoting academic freedom, whether through their professional work, private or community service, or by facing personal risk.In 2016, over 600 wrongfully imprisoned scholars and students in Egypt were recognized in absentia for their struggle for academic freedom.In 2018, Turkey’s Academics for Peace (BarışİçinAkademisyenler), an association of academics advocating a peaceful solution to the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, were recognized for their extraordinary efforts in building academic solidarity and in promoting the principles of academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, and the peaceful exchange of ideas.
Santawy, 30, is a master’s student at the Central European University (CEU) in Vienna. Since 2019, he has been interested in studying anthropology and social sciences. He was working on a master’s thesis on abortion and the situation of women in Egypt. Santawy returned to Egypt on vacation to see his family and friends in mid-December 2020. He was arbitrarily detained at a police station on 1 February 2021. The State Security Prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news in Case No. 65 of 2021. Then, the prosecution investigated him in a new case, No. 774 of 2021 (Supreme State Security). The Emergency Supreme State Security Court examined this case in June 2021, and sentenced Santawy to four years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 500 pounds on charges of spreading false news on Facebook from outside the country about the domestic situation.
In conclusion, AFTE calls on the Central European University and all academic institutions around the world to support the nomination of Santawy for this award, given the risk he faces while in prison, and his continued defence of freedom of academic activity. It also renews its call for the Egyptian president to revoke the prison sentence issued against Santawy and to secure his unconditional release.