Kylie Moore-Gilbert: Iran releases British-Australian academic ‘in exchange for three Iranians’ | World News

Iran has released a British-Australian academic it had accused of spying in exchange for three Iranians being held abroad, according to the country’s state TV.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert had gone on hunger strikes and spent long stretches in solitary confinement after being sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

She had vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence.

Official Iranian television showed video of her in a grey hijab, sitting in what appeared to be a meeting room at one of Tehran’s airports, with a blue face mask under her chin.

There was also footage of three men with Iranian flags over their shoulders, described as “economic activists”, who were met by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

Dr Moore-Gilbert was arrested in September 2018 after attending an academic conference in the city of Qom, about 90 miles south of the capital.

She had recently been transferred to Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, a desert facility notorious for its poor conditions and overcrowding, and her health was said to be worsening.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has also been held in Iran

The apparent release of Dr Moore-Gilbert showed there could be “light at the end of the tunnel” for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband Richard said.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has also been imprisoned in Iran, but was temporarily released in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Ratcliffe said the news about Ms Moore-Gilbert was a “nice shock and Nazanin was really happy when I told her”.

He added: “I think probably on a selfish level there’s always a kind of a bittersweet wondering when it’ll be our turn. Of course there isn’t a queue, these things happen in a random order.

“The reality is that whenever there’s movement, there’s hope.

“I don’t know what it means for us. It’s definitely a good thing for Kylie and it’s definitely a good thing for all of us that deals are being done.”

Amnesty International UK said Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was an “enormous relief” and called on the Government to put pressure on Iranian authorities to release other detainees.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP Tulip Siddiq, added: “Now let’s make this a Christmas reality for Nazanin too.”

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Iran releases Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in prisoner swap deal

Iran has freed Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has been detained for more than two years, in exchange for three Iranians held abroad, state TV reports.

The state TV report offered no further details this morning beyond saying that the three Iranians released in the swap had been detained for trying to bypass sanctions.

Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was sent to Tehran’s Evin Prison in September 2018 and sentenced to 10 years. She is one of several Westerners held in Iran on internationally criticised espionage charges that their families and rights groups say are unfounded.

Iranian state TV shows Kylie Moore-Gilbert with a grey hijab sitting at what appears to be a greeting room at one of Tehran’s airports. (Twitter)

It was not immediately clear when Moore-Gilbert would arrive back in Australia.

State TV aired video showing her with a grey hijab sitting at what appeared to be a greeting room at one of Tehran’s airports.

She wore a blue face mask under her chin.

The footage showed three men with Iranian flags over their shoulders — those freed in exchange for her being released.

State TV earlier described them as “economic activists,” without elaborating.

International pressure on Iran to secure her release has escalated in recent months following reports that her health was deteriorating during long stretches of solitary confinement and that she had been transferred to the notorious Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran.

Moore-Gilbert has gone on hunger strikes and pleaded for the Australian government to do more to free her. Those pleas included writing to the prime minister that she had been subjected to “grievous violations” of her rights, including psychological torture and solitary confinement.

This image made from a 2017 video by The Modern Middle East shows Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a University of Melbourne scholar on the Middle East.
This image made from a 2017 video by The Modern Middle East shows Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a University of Melbourne scholar on the Middle East. (The Modern Middle East via AP)

Her detention has further strained relations between Iran and the West, which reached a fever pitch earlier this year following the American killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad and retaliatory Iranian strikes on a US military base.

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‘International Support’ Keeping Rohingya from Taking up Arms Ahead of Myanmar Vote, Academic Says

The religious fault lines between Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and Rohingya Muslims will worsen after the country’s federal election on 8 November, say experts, highlighting the anti-Rohingya attitude prevalent among the majority community. This could result in wider security repercussions for the region.

The international community, particularly the United Nations (UN)-led institutions, must keep pressing Myanmar’s inaugural state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on the Rohingya refugee crisis, said Professor Nehginpao Kipgen, Executive Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA).

“I wouldn’t say that there is a heightened risk of Rohingya taking up arms in larger numbers as long as the international partners are engaged with Myanmar on the issue,” the academic said, responding to a question from Sputnik during a panel discussion on the Myanmar elections on Monday. The webinar was organised by a publicly-funded Indian think tank, the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA).

Myanmar’s neighbours such as Bangladesh, home to the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, and India have expressed concerns over Rohingya refugees joining the ranks of militants. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has even called 1.1 million Rohingya refugees hosted in her country a “national security threat” and has been calling for their repatriation.

Kipgen, however, said that there would be no homecoming in the near future for Rohingya refugees currently lodged in Bangladesh.

“They (Rohingya) are not accepted as citizens of Myanmar by the Buddhist majority community, which comprises two-thirds of the population. Support for Suu Kyi’s NLD (National League for Democracy) is strong among the majority of community members living in the regions,” the expert explained.

Kipgen also reckoned that Rohingya refugees and their international partners must now look beyond repatriating the members of the persecuted minority in their native Rakhine state, where the community members have found themselves entrapped in the crossfire between the security forces and the militant groups.

“Other countries must now think of integrating the Rohingya refugees in their host countries. There should be resettlement in neighbouring and Western countries under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) norms,” suggested the analyst.

“We can be certain of the fact that all the Rohingya refugees are not going to return to Myanmar. Even if some of them do, it is going to take time,” Kipgen said.

He further underlined that Myanmar’s economic growth had slowed under Suu Kyi since she helped her National League for Democracy (NLD) clinch comfortable majorities in both the House of Representatives  (lower house) and House of Nationalities (upper house) in the 2015 elections.

“This could lead her to outsource Myanmar’s economic recovery to China in the coming days. Making peace with the warning ethnic groups in the country’s northern and eastern regions and boosting economic growth have been her two major poll planks,” remarked Kipgen.

China had been the biggest foreign investor in Myanmar from 1989 through 2011, according to the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER). While Singapore narrowly outperformed China in terms of its investments into the country last year, Kipgen noted that Beijing was most likely to regain its top spot as the Chinese economy was among the few that had registered economic growth in the post-COVID-era.

“The Western nations’ perspective of Myanmar has been affected by Suu Kyi’s handling of the Rohingya crisis and her defence of the military at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this year,” said Kipgen. The case against Myanmar was brought to the ICJ by the African nation of Gambia and is under judicial consideration. Significantly, twenty-five percent of seats in Parliament are reserved for military personnel, who also occupy key portfolios such as defence and border affairs.

“Investments have taken a hit in recent years, with China emerging as the biggest saviour of Myanmar on the human rights and the economic front,” argued Kipgen.

“Despite her failure to get all the ethnic groups on board, a majority of voters still believe that she is the best person to conclude the peace process,” he also highlighted.

Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyaya, India’s former envoy to Naypyidaw, recounted during the discussion that Suu Kyi had been able to get only two ethnic groups on board the nationwide ceasefire that had been initiated in 2015.

“Eight of the 15 armed ethnic groups had signed the ceasefire agreement in 2015. Only two more groups have got on board since. The process is still incomplete,” noted the ex-envoy.

The Indian envoy further underlined that China’s backing was important in concluding the peace deal, owing to Beijing’s influence with some of the ethnic armed groups, with many training camps said to be located in Yunnan province near the border.

Suu Kyi all set for another term

All the members on the panel were unanimous in predicting a second term for the Nobel Laureate-turned-state counsellor, claiming that her vote share could be as high as 70 percent this time around.

However, Burmese activists also note the trend of “authoritarian tendencies” taking root in the south-east Asian country due to the NLD’s policies.

“Her role has been a huge disappointment in many respects, but especially in the cause of advancing democracy. The NLD has staffed the country’s major organisations, including government human rights and election bodies, with their loyalists. They are on the government’s payroll. They won’t give up power so easily,” said Khin Zaw Win, the Director of the Yangon-based Tampadipa Institute.

He lamented that just two Rohingya Muslim candidates had been allowed to file their nomination to contest the upcoming vote. “Many of them have been disqualified on flimsy grounds. There is not a single Rohingya candidate from the ethnic regions,” he pointed out.

Several human rights groups have described the elections in the country as “fundamentally flawed” for discriminating against minority candidates.

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Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s family and colleagues plead for her release after two years in Iranian prison

Family and colleagues of Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert have renewed pleas for her release from an Iranian prison as they mark the “very bleak anniversary” of her incarceration two years ago.

Dr Moore-Gilbert, who worked as a lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in September 2018 at Tehran airport as she was leaving Iran after attending an academic conference.

She was subsequently tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage, charges rejected by Australia as baseless.

Her family thanked the Federal Government and public for their support but said it had been two years of “unimaginable pain”.

“We love Kylie very much and we remain strong and far from losing hope,” the family said in a statement.

“For those who also know and love Kylie, they will recognise her fortitude and strength. We know this strength remains with her throughout this ordeal.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said securing Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was an “absolute priority” and efforts were continuing “without pause”.

“We continue to seek regular consular access to Dr Moore-Gilbert. While we work hard to bring her home, our utmost priority is on her health, wellbeing and safety.”


The University of Melbourne said it was also continuing to do everything possible to see her released.

“Kylie remains close in our hearts,” University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell wrote in an email to staff.

“What she is suffering through her detention is unimaginable and her situation is deeply distressing to her family, colleagues and friends.”

Tweets of support under the hashtag #KylieIsUS circulated on Twitter.

“I urge everyone to not forget Kylie. This could happen to any of us,” wrote Raihan Ismail, a fellow researcher specialising in Islam and the Middle East, under the Twitter handle @FreeKylieMG.

Professor Maskell said the University of Melbourne was in “close contact with the Federal Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Kylie’s family”.

“It is of small comfort to learn that Kylie has had telephone calls with family and consular access has been more regular since last December,” he said.

Moore-Gilbert closely watched in prison

Dr Moore-Gilbert was initially sent to Evin Prison, where she was often held in solitary confinement.

In July, she was transferred to Qarchak Women’s Prison, where Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, was permitted to visit her in August.

“Dr Moore-Gilbert is well and has access to food, medical facilities and books,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said in a statement following the visit.

“We will continue to seek regular consular access to Dr Moore-Gilbert.”

Roya Boroumand, executive director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, said it was important to keep diplomatic pressure on Tehran.

“Every day that passes, the food, water, and general environment is damaging for Kylie physically and psychologically, harm that may be irreparable.”

Ms Boroumand said specific information about Dr Gilbert-Moore’s welfare was hard to obtain.

“Prison authorities have made sure there is minimal contact between her and prisoners who may leak information to the outside world,” Ms Boroumand said.

“Prison authorities have mandated two prisoners follow her everywhere to report if any prisoners talk to her.”

COVID-19 fears amid ‘appalling’ prison conditions

A satellite image of a complex surrounded by desert.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert is being held in Qarchak prison, located in a desert area south-east of Tehran.(Supplied: Google Earth)

Qarchak prison is located in a desert area south-east of Tehran.

It is mainly used to incarcerate drug offenders but currently holds 18 political prisoners, according to the Iran Prison Atlas, a database compiled by US-based group United for Iran.

The US Department of State listed Qarchak as one of two prisons “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognised human rights” in a statement released in June.

Ms Boroumand described the conditions inside Qarchak as “appalling”.

“Hygiene suffers with limited access to sanitary supplies and an overall absence of prison disinfection and cleaning.”

Last week, Abdorrahman Boroumand Center released a report on prison conditions inside the country amid fears of coronavirus pandemic.

“Every day, [Qarchak’s] sewer system overflows into the wards’ courtyards, filling the grounds with a terrible stench that draws in swarms of insects,” the report said.

As the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping through Iranian prisons earlier this year, Iran released tens of thousands of prisoners to curb the spread in overcrowded cells.

But Dr Moore-Gilbert was not among them, and fears for her health and welfare remain high.

The report said while the number of COVID-19 cases inside Qarchak prison was unknown, “scores of prisoners who tested positive have languished without much medical care”.

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, prison officials have distributed disinfectants to prisoners once, and have never distributed additional cleaning or personal hygiene products,” the report said.

Iran has recorded almost 400,000 cases of the virus with over 22,700 deaths.

According to the report, food supplied to prisoners had been cut to a quarter of pre-pandemic portions.

Dr Moore-Gilbert has gone on hunger strikes during her time in custody and pleaded for the Australian Government to do more to free her.

She wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year saying she had been “subjected to grievous violations of my legal and human rights, including psychological torture and spending prolonged periods of time in solitary confinement”.

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As Hong Kong’s academic year begins under security law, it’s unclear what can legally be said in a classroom

A monument to freedom, the “Goddess of Democracy” has long been a symbol of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, and a testament to the freedoms the semi-autonomous city has enjoyed compared to the rest of China.

They had been expected to protest again this year. But with coronavirus halting the opportunity for public assembly, Beijing imposed a new national security law on the city in June, before the unrest could resume. The law, which bypassed Hong Kong’s semi-democratic legislature, bans subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces, with severe prison terms for anyone found in contravention.

From when the legislation was first mooted, the government has always insisted it will only target a handful of individuals and not have a widespread impact on Hong Kong’s political freedoms.

However, since it came into force on June 30, some 24 arrests have been made, including four student activists over social media posts. It has been used to bar multiple candidates from standing for election, political parties have disbanded and once ubiquitous protest signs were pulled down across the city. Books deemed to be in contravention of the law have also been removed from stores and libraries.

Hong Kong has some of the best universities in Asia. But in a growing climate of fear and self censorship, it is now unclear what can legally be said and taught in a classroom — and whether student activism, both on campus and off, may become a thing of the past.

Academic freedom

As university lecturers in the social sciences across Hong Kong prepared for the fall term, writing lesson plans, sending out book lists, and testing Zoom setups, they also engaged in a furtive attempt to understand if their teaching might be deemed illegal.

Since it was proposed by Beijing, observers have warned that the vague language and sweeping nature of the security law gives the authorities broad scope to crack down on a variety of behaviors, while offering little guidance to those affected on how to stay the right side of it.

Schools have already been ordered by the government to remove books that contain content “which is outdated or involves the four crimes under the law,” and works by several prominent pro-democracy activists, including former student activist Joshua Wong, have been removed from public libraries.

One lecturer at CUHK described how faculty members pressed university administrators in emails, encrypted messages and in hastily convened staff meetings for reassurances or guidance, with little success.

“The general consensus is we know too little and the wording of the legislation is too vague for us to prepare for it,” said the lecturer, who spoke anonymously as they had not received permission from the school to do so. “So, it is essentially up to individuals to decide whether they want to be brave and ignore the whole thing, or self-censor.”

This creates a nerve-wracking situation for staff, who are unsure not only what might get them in trouble, but also whether the university will stand by them in future. In June, Hong Kong University (HKU) fired Benny Tai, a respected law professor who was instrumental in organizing what became the 2014 Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests.

Tai’s sacking was a “clear breach of procedure, since a committee overwhelmingly made up of political appointees reversed a recommendation made by an academic body (the University Senate) not to terminate Tai’s appointment,” said Sebastian Veg, a China specialist at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris, who was previously based in Hong Kong for several years.

“There is a new red line for academics who are also active in local politics or social movements,” he added. “But it’s too early to say whether that red line will further expand into teaching and research itself.”

The Beijing-appointed chief executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, oversees all public universities in the city, and most institutions have strong links with China, relying on the mainland for students and funding. CUHK, for example, operates the Shenzhen Research Institute, across the border in China, and Chinese students make up the largest non-local cohort in the school’s 20,000-strong student body.

CUHK did not respond to a request for comment about the law or any action taken because of it. The government has denied that the law threatens academic freedom.

In 2017, mainland Chinese students clashed with some local students over a series of pro-Hong Kong independence posters erected on the CUHK campus, which were eventually removed by the school. Following the incident, the heads of 10 universities in Hong Kong published a joint statement condemning “abuses” of free speech and calling Hong Kong independence “unconstitutional.”
Law professor and activist Benny Tai seen in August 2019. Tai was controversially fired from Hong Kong University this year.

Independent thought

Long before it was officially criminalized by the new security law, independence advocacy has been a contentious issue on campuses.

In 2015, then Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung used his annual address to attack a student magazine, Undergrad, for writing about independence, bringing the topic, then still fairly marginal, to wider public attention.
The CUHK lecturer said there was concern about the effect of the security law on the school’s journalism department. Many student reporters covered the protests last year — how to even report on separatism or other newly illegal activities in the wake of the new law is something that far more experienced journalists are still trying to work out.
It is unclear, for example, where the line is between reporting on the independence movement and “promoting” it, either by giving activists airtime or even by simply quoting separatist slogans. Discussing such subjects in lessons could also be risky. In a statement on books that could potentially contravene the security law, the Education Bureau said that teaching materials discussing the new crimes should not be used “unless they are being used to positively teach pupils about their national security awareness or sense of safeguarding national security.”
Keith Richburg, director of Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center (JMSC), said in a note to students last month that “the specifics of the new law are vague, and that vagueness is deliberate.”

“By not spelling out precisely what actions or words count as secession or subversion — by not clearly delineating Beijing’s ‘red lines’ — it gives the authorities the power and leeway to apply the law as they see fit, while forcing everyone into a defensive mode of timidity and self-censorship to avoid possible transgressions.

“That includes journalists, academics and others in the public space,” Richburg wrote, adding that “we do not intend to do anything differently at JMSC, as we adhere to our mission of training the next generation of reporters and imbuing them with journalism’s international best practices.”

Student politics

The oldest tertiary education institution in the city, HKU is one of the top-ranked schools in Asia according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and international students make up over 40% of enrollments. The top two schools in Asia, however, are both in China, suggesting that academic freedom may not ultimately shape what counts toward such rankings.

But it could drastically alter the nature of the institution.

Sun Yat-sen, the politician and philosopher considered the father of modern China, called the school his “intellectual birthplace,” and HKU has a strong tradition of turning out independent thinkers and activists.
Responding to a request for comment about the new security law, an HKU spokeswoman said that “we will continue to uphold academic freedom and the freedom of thought and speech,” and linked to the school’s policy on academic freedom.

Some HKU students are less than reassured.

Protesters sit next to a Goddess of Democracy statue at the CUHK campus in Hong Kong on November 12, 2019.
Tracy Cheng, vice president of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union (HKUSU), said that many people were alarmed by the firing of Tai and angered that during anti-government unrest last year HKU vice chancellor Xiang Zhang appeared to downplay allegations of police brutality and focus instead on violence by protesters.

“This upset and disappointed a lot of students, as we thought that HKU would stand alongside students,” she said. “The union and other associations has organized forums to express our concerns over academic freedom and freedom of speech to the university. We will look closely when the academic year starts, to see if there is any censorship in classrooms, especially for socio-political courses.”

HKUSU was one of the founding members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), an umbrella organization which included unions from the city’s largest universities. In 2014, HKFS was one of the main groups leading the Umbrella protests, and members even debated city officials on live television.

“The involvement of students (in the protests) was important,” said Lester Shum, onetime deputy secretary-general of HKFS and now an elected lawmaker. “At that time, not so many people were getting involved in politics, but when the students came out and said we are fighting for our freedom and our future, many people felt touched and were inspired to join.”

Shum said that while last year’s protests were not as dependent on student groups for their organization as the 2014 Umbrella Movement, for example, they were still largely led by young people.

“This generated (great attention) on both the local and international level because when some protesters are so young, maybe 15 to 18, and go to the front lines to face the threat of tear gas and rubber bullets, that is an important moral force,” he said.

Coronavirus concerns

The uncertainty created by the new law, across a host of fields and industries, has been described as a “feature not a bug” by some critics, who argue that by not clearly demarcating red lines, the government encourages greater self-censorship in academia, media and politics.

The extraterritorial nature of the security law, which purports to apply to anyone in the world, regardless of whether alleged offenses are committed in Hong Kong, has sparked alarm far beyond the city itself. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that a number of US universities are adding warnings to courses that “may cover material considered politically sensitive by China.”

Some schools will adopt code names for participants in certain classes, the WSJ said, so that Chinese and Hong Kong students, thousands of whom study at US institutions, can take part without concern that they might face repercussions at home.

For some students, at universities in both Hong Kong and the United States, the coronavirus pandemic adds another wrinkle to this issue: many are taking part in their courses via video link from their homes in China. This puts them at greater risk of surveillance, and students may be less willing to participate in politically sensitive discussions while under Chinese jurisdiction.

The CUHK professor said their “number one concern” was how to cater to Chinese students who have been unable to return to the city due to the pandemic.

“We will have to start our semester online,” they said. “How are we going to discuss sensitive topics with them?”

High school students join hands to form a protest chain in the Kwun Tong area of Kowloon in Hong Kong on September 24, 2019.

Next generation

Many students already enrolled in Hong Kong universities have passed through the crucible of last year’s protests, and are likely so politicized that the law will struggle to censor them completely.

“The recent protests awakened a lot of students, resulting in an increased level of political awareness generally,” said Cheng, the HKUSU vice president. “There may be some kind of self-censorship after (the law) has been implemented, but Hong Kongers are resilient and creative.”

The real battle for hearts and minds is in the city’s high schools, which the government has long blamed for fostering anti-Beijing sentiment. During last year’s unrest, a top adviser to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told CNN that “we lost two generations, we lost them through the schools.”

“The fundamental problem is that you have a whole generation of young people who are not just dead against, but actually hate China,” the aide said, on the condition on anonymity. “How are you going to have ‘one country, two systems’ work if you have a whole generation hating that country?”

The solution seen by many on the government side is to introduce something akin to the patriotic education curriculum followed in China, where inculcating a love of country is a key task for schools.

A previous attempt to introduce this in Hong Kong was defeated in 2012 by mass protests led by student groups including HKFS and Scholarism, a group founded by activist Joshua Wong, then 15 years old.

The security law calls for the government to exercise “supervision and guidance” over schools, and it’s not the only recent legislation that could change how they operate. Under new laws mandating respect for the Chinese flag and national anthem, Hong Kong schools will soon be looking and sounding a lot more like their counterparts across the border.

Shum said he was concerned that “in the near future, maybe three to five years’ time, there may be very serious consequences and effects” from the security law and changes to education, resulting in a far less political body of students.

One high school teacher, who requested anonymity to talk about a sensitive issue, said their school had told teachers the national anthem would be played at key times during the day, and students will participate in regular flag-raising ceremonies.

“The school has always acknowledged the mainland (but) this will certainly be amped up with seeing the flag around the school and singing the anthem,” they said. “We do not sing any songs to celebrate Hong Kong at the moment, so this will be a new concept to celebrate country.”

Responding to a series of questions about the security law, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said the new legislation only targets a small minority of lawbreakers, and “protects the life and property, basic rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority of citizens as well as maintains prosperity and stability of (Hong Kong).”

“Hong Kong is a free and pluralistic society which will continue to thrive on the rule of law, free flow of information and capital, and freedom of speech and expression, etc. These fundamental values are upheld under the Law to ensure the continuous prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” a spokeswoman said, adding that existing safeguards for “academic freedom and institutional autonomy” contained within the city’s de facto constitution remain in force.

Shum was less than convinced, predicting a revamp of how schools in Hong Kong teach, and the abandonment of topics such as liberal studies, which aims to foster critical thinking.

“(The government) thinks training students to be critical is the same as training them to be radical,” he said.

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How resilience helped this former refugee become an award-winning academic

Determination is Alfred Mupenzi’s defining characteristic.

Born in a Ugandan settlement camp to Rwandan refugees, he was an orphan by the time he was 12.

The Western Sydney University academic said it was not until he arrived in Australia in 2013 that his life began to take “shape”.

His drive to overcome a challenging past led to a post-doctoral degree on the resilience of African students, which he completed last month while on a bridging visa.

Now he is sharing his experience for International Refugee Week to highlight how migrants from refugee backgrounds can thrive, with the right support, in new countries.

Education is liberation

After years of living life “one day at a time”, Dr Mupenzi came to see education as the only way to improve his circumstances.

“Education was the only liberating factor, that’s what the university offered me,” he told ABC Radio Sydney’s Breakfast program.

There are about 25.9 million refugees in 2020, according to UNHCR.(AP: Karsten Thielker, file)

He managed to win an aid-funded scholarship from the Rwandan Government that would allow him to study in Australia.

Like many refugees, he faced cultural and linguistic obstacles, as well as the lingering trauma of his younger years.

“There was no-one here that I could talk to when I first arrived,” he said.

Friendly students helped him with shopping and eventually he connected with members of Sydney’s Rwandan community.

But everything from the names of streets to the food was totally new for the first 12 months.

“It was a learning curve and a very long journey,” he said.

A smiling family flanks a man in a graduation outfit.
Dr Mupenzi says finding his way in Australia was a “big learning curve”.(Supplied: Sally Tsoutas)

Searching for strength

Flying his wife and three children to Australia after eight months was “the greatest thing that ever happened” to him.

As his confidence grew, he balanced his study with a full-time job — including some night work at a local nursing home — to make ends meet.

Focusing on his strengths helped him navigate the obstacles and later informed his research.

“Students with a refugee background are strong, dynamic, and have a high capacity of adaptability,” he wrote.

Australia takes in about 57,000 refugees each year.

Some have thrived, while others have struggled to adapt to their new life.

But rather than examining their deficits, Dr Mupenzi wanted to understand what was working.

“The starting point of my research wasn’t on the traumatic histories of these students,” he said.

He found that strong communities were essential in fostering resilience, which can lead to lifechanging outcomes through education.

A young-looking man of African background wearing a graduation hat and gown.
Dr Mupenzi completed his doctorate while on a bridging visa.(Supplied: Sally Tsoutas)

Focus on the positive

But interviewing other African students was harder than he thought.

“My personal story became alive in my mind every time I heard my participants’ stories,” he said.

Remaining neutral during the interviews was difficult, but the experience gave him new insights into his own childhood.

“I started realising that my family protected me as a child from the troubles of being a refugee,” he said.

“So that even in a refugee camp, I never felt like a refugee.”

Winning a postgraduate researcher award at the Australian Association for Research in Education Conference in 2016 helped validate his approach.

Focusing on the shortcomings of refugees, he argues, will lead to greater rifts in Australian communities.

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Indigenous academic Anthony Dillon abused for opposing Black Lives Matter protests in Australia

An Indigenous academic and commentator who openly opposed the Black Lives Matter protests across Australia at the weekend copped a barrage of abuse as a result.

In an opinion piece for, published on Sunday, Dr Anthony Dillon from the Australian Catholic University argued that the large-scale demonstrations risked overshadowing the “true inequality” that Aboriginal Australians grapple with.

And he claimed that the issue of Indigenous deaths in custody had been conflated and hijacked by the movement to justify itself.

Some weren’t pleased, and the comments directed at Dr Dillon as a result were fairly “nasty”, he said.

“I was called a coconut, meaning black on the outside but white on the inside, and a sell-out,” he said.

One of those to lash out at his viewpoint was Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, a lecturer from The University of Queensland, who called him a coconut and said: “What kind of black fella are you anyway?”

The irony is that the outrage over “anything that disrupts the narrative” came at the expense of a discussion about critical issues impacting the lives of Indigenous people, he said.

RELATED: Black Lives Matter protesters in Australia are just ‘rent-a-crowds’

“I’m not saying that it’s good for Aboriginal people to be in custody,” Dr Dillon said.

“Up around 30 per cent of jail populations being Indigenous is a tragic thing. I think we all agree on that. But the real injustice in my view is the unresolved disadvantage in communities – the things that gets them in trouble in the first place.”

Preventable disease, infant mortality, lower life expectancy, domestic violence, child abuse, unemployment and poor school attendance are all issues that deserve urgent focus and community anger, Dr Dillon said.

“Instead, people are marching in the streets and don’t really know why.

“Aboriginal people in custody are not dying at higher rates than non-Aboriginal people. It’s a myth, and it’s fuelling the whole Black Lives Matter movement here in Australia. They’re less likely to die in custody than non-Aboriginal people.

“Yes, 432 Indigenous people have died in custody since the Royal Commission. There were also 1600 non-Indigenous people who died in the custody in the same time period.

“All of the data I see, I don’t think that (being Indigenous) is a big or overwhelmingly significant factor in deaths in custody.

“If anyone dies in custody and neglect or outright brutalism has played a part, that is a travesty that should be investigated.

“Apart from some isolated instances, the majority die of natural causes or, tragically, suicide.”

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The causes of death in Indigenous communities are the same, he said – and that’s what he believes people should be angry about and demanding change for.

“I think people look for heroes and villains. In Australia, it’s the jails, police and white government.

“When you disrupt that narrative, people don’t like it. It’s more convenient to point the finger at those villains than to address uncomfortable issues like violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities.

“It seems that only black lives taken at the hands of white people matter – black people dying at the hands of black people, we don’t seem to care.”

Dr Dillon believes high Indigenous incarceration rates are the symptom of a broader social problem.

“If you took every Aboriginal person out of jail today, the death rate would absolutely go down, but it would mean most would die somewhere else.

“It comes back to having healthy communities, adults working and kids in school. I think once you get that right, the jail rates will fall.”

He also believes that the conversation should move away from the “gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people”.

“If I can make a generalisation, there are two types of Indigenous people. There are those who are urbanised, like myself – I know where my next meal is coming from and that I can go to bed tonight and be safe – and those in rural and remote areas.

“If we could focus on Indigenous people who are living in rural and remote areas and focus on tackling the practical issues they face, having food, being employed, kids going to school, violence and health.

“We talk too much about the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. What we should be focusing on is the gap between people like myself and people in remote communities grappling with preventable disease, poverty, violence, those sorts of thing.”

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British-Australian academic has repeatedly attempted suicide in Iranian jail: rights group

(Reuters) – British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has repeatedly attempted suicide while detained in Iran, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group, said on Thursday.

Moore-Gilbert, a specialist in Middle East politics at the University of Melbourne, has been detained in Iran since September, 2018, the statement said.

British and Australian media have reported that she has been sentenced to 10 years in jail by Iranian authorities.

The Iranian judiciary could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Kylie’s cries for help are so loud and desperate that even the walls of one of Iran’s most notorious prisons can’t silence them,” CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi said in a statement.

“The Australian government should heed her pleas and immediately facilitate her access to basic rights that the Iranian government has been denying her for nearly two years, and immediately get her back home where she belongs.”

Moore-Gilbert is being held in solitary confinement in a two to three meter cell with a toilet in the Evin prison in Tehran, Reza Khandan, an activist and husband of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an activist lawyer currently imprisoned in Iran, told CHRI.

Moore-Gilbert is forced to wear a blindfold anytime she is taken out of the cell, Khandan told CHRI.

Iran has stepped up detentions of foreign and dual nationals amid a protracted standoff with Western powers, after the United States withdrew from an international agreement to curb Iranian nuclear activities and reimposed sanctions on Tehran in 2018.

Separately, journalist and film maker Mohammad Nourizad attempted suicide in a prison in Mashhad, his wife Fatemeh Maleki said in an interview with BBC Persian on May 2.

Nourizad was under pressure because authorities would not give him furlough, transfer him to a prison closer to his home or allow him regular phone calls, Maleki said in the interview.

Nourizad was imprisoned last year for signing an open letter, along with 13 others, calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, to resign.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Giles Elgood

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