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Friday, September 04, 2015

Nazarbayev University fights censorship allegations

"Management and staff at Kazakhstan’s flagship university are disputing recent accusations of censorship from a lecturer, who alleges he is being squeezed out over attempts to hold lectures on the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia." reports Peter Leonard, EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.

The Kazakh president watches a student raise her graduation diploma during the first graduation ceremony at Nazarbayev University in Astana on 15 June.
Photo: Kazakh Presidential Press Service

Photo: Marcel de Haas
In a widely circulated statement, Marcel de Haas, a 54-year old retired military officer of the Dutch army, last month accused Nazarbayev University of using underhanded methods to revoke his contract and exercising censorship. The lecturer claimed efforts to prevent a public talk in August 2014 about the developing confrontation in Ukraine came at the behest of a Russian embassy official in Astana and suggested the university had caved in to outside pressure.

Now, several current and former international colleagues at the university have expressed strong objections over De Haas’ account and instead hailed what they called their employer’s tolerance for the open exchange of ideas.

“I firmly believe that I have academic freedom at [Nazarbayev University], because I exercise this freedom every day at work,” said Charles Sullivan, an assistant professor of political science and international relations.

Nazarbayev University was opened in 2010 with the aim of evolving into a centre of advanced learning capable of competing with its global peers, and helping students develop critical-thinking skills rarely encouraged by Soviet-vintage educational establishments. To that end, the university has invested lavishly in attracting academics from overseas.

Many have been sceptical, however, about the extent to which that approach could flourish in an institution funded by a government that has displayed little tolerance for genuinely independent media or public criticism of the authorities. Legislation approved in 2010 even made voicing remarks insulting President Nursultan Nazarbayev – in whose honour the university was named – punishable by up to a year in prison.

Source: University World News