Free to Think features conversation with interesting, thoughtful, and inspiring individuals whose research, teaching, or expression falls at the always sensitive intersection of power and ideas. We'll be speaking with those who have the courage to seek truth and speak truth, often at great risk, as well as with those who support them and share their stories.
Free to Think is a podcast presented by Scholars at Risk, where we celebrate people with the courage to think, question, and share ideas. For information on membership, activities, or donating to Scholars at Risk, visit www.scholarsatrisk.org.
“We have no definition” — MSCA4Ukraine fellow Artem Nazarko on prosecuting war crimes in Ukraine
In February 2022, Artem Nazarko was in Odesa, Ukraine with his family, coming to terms with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “It was huge traffic jams everywhere, empty shops, panic and confusion” he says. “No food, no petrol. It was tough times, and dark days.”
Two years later, Artem is a PhD candidate and MSCA4Ukraine fellow at the University of Bergen in Norway. He is working in international criminal and humanitarian law, focusing on war crime prosecutions in Ukraine, during the current Russo-Ukrainian war. Artem describes his decision to apply to MSCA4Ukraine, his research, and the impact of staying connected with Ukrainian research communities while living abroad.
The MSCA4Ukraine scheme provides fellowships and other support to displaced researchers from Ukraine, and is funded by the European Commission under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. You can learn more about MSCA4Ukraine and its partners on the SAR Europe website.
“Our voices really do matter from an early age” – Student advocates at UC Santa Barbara highlight wrongful charges against Egyptian scholar Patrick Zaki
Emma Hartley and Jonathan Gelfond, undergraduates at UC Santa Barbara in California, weren’t sure if elected officials in Washington DC would agree to speak with them. They were advocating on behalf of Patrick Zaki – a University of Bologna graduate student formerly detained for two years, in apparent retaliation for his human rights research in Egypt. Though released in 2021, authorities continue to postpone Zaki’s trial, and he faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
To Hartley and Gelfond’s surprise, they got four meetings on Capitol Hill. “We were focusing on issues that might not be these representatives or senators' first priority,” Gelfond says. “It was really empowering.” They join Free to Think along with their SAR Student Advocacy Seminar professor, Claudio Fogu, to describe campaigning on behalf of Zaki, using art as a tool for advocacy on campus, and the impact of engaging in human rights work. “No matter how daunting it may seem at first,” Hartley says, “our voices are important and they do make a difference.”
Learn about setting up a Student Advocacy Seminar on campus here: scholarsatrisk.org/actions/student-advocacy-seminars/
“‘Jane from California' might be an Afghan woman…” University of the People's Shai Reshef on education in Afghanistan under the Taliban
Free to Think speaks with Shai Reshef, President of the University of the People, the first non-profit, tuition-free, American, accredited, online university whose mission is to help students worldwide overcome financial, geographic, political, and personal obstacles to higher education.
Since August 2021, University of the People has received increasing numbers of applications from women in Afghanistan seeking a way to continue their studies. After the Taliban reimposed a ban on women attending universities, University of the People provided 2000 scholarships for Afghan women. “They want to expand their knowledge, to learn to enrich themselves, but also to feel part of the world,” says Reshef. “Studying… is exactly what they need in order to keep them alive and hoping for a better future.”
“Raising the cost of repression” — Sol Iglesias on political violence, red tagging, and threats to academic freedom in the Philippines
Free to Think speaks with political scientist Sol Iglesias about "violence for social control" and threats to scholars in the Philippines, including online trolling, "red-tagging," threats, and violent attacks.
Iglesias, who is a professor at the University of the Philippines and contributes to SAR’s monitoring of attacks on higher education in the country, believes academic freedom is the lifeblood of social progress and development. “[It’s] part of this ecosystem of truth telling, speaking truth to power, [and] producing evidence-based social and political criticism,” she says. “We can’t do without it.”
“Every day my children can go to school, I laugh, because my heart is full of joy,” with SAR scholar Zahra Hakimi
In Herat, Afghanistan, Zahra Hakimi was a faculty member, midwife, family planning trainer, and women’s reproductive healthcare provider. She often worked in secret and at personal risk to provide treatment to survivors of sexual assault.
Within a week of taking control of her city, the Taliban raided Hakimi’s home. They condemned her work as “anti-Islam.” They threatened her and her husband, and demanded her teenage daughter for a forced marriage. She had no choice: She had to flee.
On Free to Think Hakimi shares her incredible journey, including several attempts to escape Afghanistan, first through Iran, then the United States, and ultimately Canada. With SAR’s help, she is now a visiting researcher at the Centre for Research on Health and Nursing at the University of Ottawa. Since December 2022, the Taliban has banned higher education for women in Afghanistan. Now in Canada, however, Hakimi’s daughter hopes to become a dentist. “Every day that my children can go to school” Hakimi says, “my heart is full of joy."
The "forgotten crisis" of attacks on higher education in Venezuela
Venezuelan higher education is in crisis. After decades of political attacks on universities, many professors struggle to survive a national economic collapse that threatens the whole society with runaway inflation, skyrocketing poverty, and mass outward migration of millions. Professors rely on multiple side jobs and foreign remittances but still can’t make ends meet. How and why do they go on?
Free to Think speaks with Mayda Hočevar, Director of the Human Rights Observatory at the Universidad de Los Andes, and David Gomez Gamboa, the director of Aula Abierta, as they unpack the history that has contributed to the current crisis. They explain the “direct relationship between academic freedom and democratic guarantees” and why now, more than ever, is the time to fight for university autonomy and academic freedom in Venezuela — and by extension, wherever democracy is threatened.
Best episode yet…..Loved the idea that today’s youth does not need permission to get involved.
Will share with my college kids!