The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) has awarded its annual Academic Freedom Award for 2010 to an Iranian organization, the Advocacy Council for the Right to Education (ACRE) - also known as the Council for Defending the Right to Education. The award honors ACRE for its leading role in the struggle of Iranian university students and faculty to defend and uphold the right to education, despite severe harassment and persecution by the Iranian authorities. The award was made at a public ceremony on November 19, 2010, during MESA's annual meeting in San Diego, California.
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
MESA bestows its Academic Freedom Award each year on an individual or organization in recognition of a particularly noteworthy contribution to the defense of academic freedom, either in the Middle East and North Africa or in North America. Recent awardees include Radwan Ziadeh, founder and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies; Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization established to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians; and Dr. Sa'ad Eskander, Director-General of the Iraq National Library and Archive, for his struggle to preserve Iraq's cultural heritage. A full list of award winners can be found at http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/excellence/academic_freedom_award_winners.htm
This year's winner, ACRE, was formed in the autumn of 2008 by a group of Iranian university students who, like more than a thousand of their fellow students, had been barred by the authorities from continuing their education because of their activism in defense of democracy, civil liberties and human rights. The Advocacy Council launched a campaign to publicize and resist the government's policy of punishing its critics by denying them access to higher education.
In the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential election, the authorities stepped up their campaign of persecution against the founders, leaders and activists of the Advocacy Council. Many of them have been prosecuted and imprisoned on obviously baseless charges: for example, Zia Nabavi, one of the group's founders, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison; Majid Dorri has been sentenced to 6 years in prison; and Mahdiyeh Golrou has been sentenced to 28 months in prison. Many other Advocacy Council leaders and activists are facing trial and imprisonment, while yet others have been driven into hiding or exile.
In announcing the award, Professor Zachary Lockman, the acting chair of MESA's Committee on Academic Freedom, noted, "It is clear that the only thing that the Advocacy Council for the Right to Education/the Council for Defending the Right to Education is really 'guilty' of is a firm commitment to defend the basic human right to education and uphold the principles of academic freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Middle East Studies Association is therefore honored to give this organization our annual Academic Freedom Award."
Middle East Studies Association: http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/about/about.htm
MESA Committee on Academic Freedom: http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/caf/caf_home.html
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