Students fast for oppressed scholar

UI students are organizing a fast for at-risk scholar Nasser bin Ghaith as a part of their internships at Scholars at Risk. Another group of students is working on the case of Uyghur intellectual and Professor Ilham Tohti.

Rachel Steil, News Reporter

On April 24, three University of Iowa students will fast for 24 hours to bring attention to the case of Nasser bin Ghaith, a UAE-imprisoned scholar and economist.

Bin Ghaith was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals in 2017. He was convicted of speaking out against United Arab Emirate leaders, according to the nonprofit human-rights organization Scholars at Risk. Human-rights activists and organizations defend bin Ghaith’s right to expression, calling his imprisonment unjust.

UI students Jacqueline Yelenosky, Hibbah Jarmakani, and Olivia Roberts are interning at Scholars at Risk as a requirement for the Certificate in Human Rights program. As a part of their internships, the students are organizing a day of fasting and tweeting to amplify bin Ghaith’s story.

“We are doing the fasting campaign because [bin Ghaith] has been on a liquids only diet since October 2018,” Jarmakani said.

Since his imprisonment, bin Ghaith has been on three hunger strikes, protesting his imprisonment and mistreatment. At the Al-Razeen maximum security prison, bin Ghaith is being beaten and tortured, Yelenosky said.

“His health is rapidly deteriorating,” Jarmakani said. “We are creating a day of fasting to hopefully create enough noise around the case so the UAE knows that we are paying attention to his case.”

The students call for people to sign a petition advocating for bin Ghaith’s release. The petition says bin Ghaith has been denied access to medications and his family. The petition also notes that other scholars have been released from Al-Razeen while bin Ghaith remains.

“Making this human-rights violation more visible on campus is very important,” Roberts said.

Jarmakani said she feels personally connected to bin Ghaith’s case.

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“I am originally from the Middle East,” Jarmakani said. “I hope to work in the Middle East as an academic someday. This was my way to get involved with something that I want to be a part  of one day.”

Three other UI students are interning for Scholars at Risk. Jessica Weiler, Dilon Goncalves, and Zoe Hueser are working on the case of Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur professor and intellectual from China.

According to Scholars at Risk, Tohti was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 on charges of “separatism.”

The Tohti team is not organizing an event at UI but is collaborating with other campuses to organize events.

“I spoke with a lot of international students on campus, and they are not comfortable with events related to this particular topic because there can be a lot of backlash,” Weiler said.

Her friend, a student from Shanghai, expressed her concern about Tohti’s case. The friend was passionate about the case but could not act because she could face serious consequences in China for getting involved.

The Tohti group also asks that people to sign its petition, which notes the rising concerns regarding Tohti’s treatment and well-being.

The groups will conduct a joint presentation for UISG, Yelenosky said, which will take place April 28. The students will present their scholars’ cases to UISG to ask the organization to amplify the petitions and allocate funding to their internship program.

“So much of human-rights advocacy is having regimes know that they are being watched,” Yelenosky said.