It’s inconceivable to think that in 2014 students could be bullied for exercising free speech or attending class. Yet, in many parts of the world, this is a reality pro-liberty activists regularly face. I work for the international libertarian nonprofit Students For Liberty (SFL), and our network of students leaders around the world have been increasingly harassed by government thugs and extremists on both the far-left and far-right.
Take the ongoing case of Sait Matty Jaw for example. A lecturer at The University of the Gambia who was instrumental in starting the college’s SFL chapter, Jaw was arrested last Thursday by the Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA). What, you might ask, was the crime the young academic was suspected of committing? He was working with the polling company Gallup to collect survey data about his country and was nabbed along with two SFL students for allegedly failing to fill out the proper paperwork.
The Gambian constitution stipulates that citizens can only be held without charge for 72 hours, meaning that Jaw should have been released last weekend. However, the NIA now denies that they are holding Jaw, continuing a disturbing history of secret arrests and suppressing the rule of law the country has experienced under the leadership of President Yahya Jammeh. The two other SFL leaders were eventually released and report that they were heavily questioned about their affiliation with our organization, suggesting that this is a direct attack on the libertarian student movement in Africa.
It’s now been nearly a week since Jaw’s arrest and his colleagues cannot sit in silence anymore. Hundreds of supporters have tweeted their disapproval of his illegal imprisonment using the hashtag #FreeSaitMattyJaw and have signed a Change.org petition calling for his release. Sadly, Sait’s situation is just one of many crises SFL’s international leaders have encountered over the past week alone.
Last Wednesday, an SFL event at Serbia’s University of Belgrade with 150 attendants was disrupted by neo-Nazis who threw flyers and lunged at attendees and spat on the face of the organizer. The incident was so hostile that faculty told our student leaders that the event could not continue. The next day, it made front-page headlines of several of the South-Eastern European country’s top newspapers. With fascist movements on the rise in Europe, it seems likely that our student organizations will only experience more of this hostility.
However, there is hope. Government and extremist thugs aside, most young people respect the libertarian values of free speech and the rule of law and refuse to be bullied into submission. One recent incident our leaders in Honduras experienced points to this fact. On the same exact day as the Serbia incident, two communist student organizations at the national Autonomous University of Honduras Valle de Sula (UNAH-VS) threatened to shut down the school, after already having done so for 17 days last month. They forced students from their classroom and chained the university’s entrance gates closed.
Fortunately, SFL’s student leaders were able to take action along with help from the university’s administration. They rallied over 200 students together by passing out SFL buttons, attended the socialists’ general assembly, and chanted, “We want classes!” The situation grew tense, with one SFL leader nearly being pushed off the assembly stage. But, as the crowd in support of keeping classes opened grew, the socialists finally realized they were out of luck. Their leader apologized for forcing students out of class and promised to not shutdown the university for the remainder of the semester.
Millennials in the United States are often labeled as apathetic, but young people in developing countries don’t have the luxury of inaction. Facing dictatorial governments and rising extremism, students in many places around the world have no choice but to stand up for the basic freedom they deserve. We at Students For Liberty are dedicated to supporting their cause.