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Death to those who dare to speak out

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Even under Saddam Hussein, Saad Jawad spoke his mind. The mild-mannered, political science professor was one of only four people who dared to sign a petition asking Iraq's dictator for a more democratic form of government.

Today, Dr. Jawad still speaks out. But like other university professors across Iraq, he is increasingly afraid that saying what he thinks - or saying anything political at all - could get him killed. "To tell the truth, at the time of Saddam Hussein, we used to speak to our students freely," says Jawad. "Ministers, for example, were criticized all the time. But now, a lot of people are not willing to say these kinds of things because of fear."

Over the past year, Baghdad's intelligentsia has seen a wave of killings: scientists, professors, and academics, executed in carefully planned assassinations.

It's hard to estimate the toll, but US occupation authorities put the number of "intellectuals and professionals" assassinated at up to five a month, not counting another five to 10 monthly attempts.

By some counts, as many as 40 of Iraq's leading scientists and university professors have been killed since last April. The Iraqi police say 1,000 of the country's intellectuals may have been executed in the past year, but such a high figure seems doubtful, especially as rumors abound. At least one mathematics professor who was reported by local news outlets to have been killed turned out to be very much alive.

But regardless of the numbers, there is one sure victim: free speech. On the campuses of Iraq's universities, the killings have created a climate of fear so pervasive that many professors flatly refuse to speak about them, or even to admit they are happening.

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