BLOOMINGTON — Two Russian physicists may be imprisoned halfway around the world, but they’re case is important to students at Illinois Wesleyan University.
The cases of Svyatoslav Bobyshev and Yevgeny Afanasyev has been taken up by students in IWU’s Peace Fellows program, and their stories will be part of a teach-in Jan. 21 that focuses on prison reform and human rights.
IWU political science professor William Munro, director of the Peace Fellows program, said the issue goes beyond these two Baltic State Technical University professors who are accused of espionage after giving lectures at a Chinese university. He said it also is a matter of the impact on other scholars and their ability to collaborate.
“That’s what scholars do; they share knowledge,” Munro said.
This isn’t the first time IWU students have taken up the cause of an imprisoned scholar.
Working with Scholars at Risk, based at New York University, students researched the case of blind Chinese activist Chen Guancheng, even presenting the case to the Human Rights Committee of the Chicago Bar Association last May. Shortly after the students’ presentation, Chen and his family escaped home confinement to the U.S. Embassy, and were eventually allowed to leave for New York.
Finding information about Bobyshev and Afanasyev has been more challenging than the Chen case, in which at least one congressman and some groups had taken interest, Munro said. But that hasn’t been a deterrent to their work.
“The idea of this program is that students generate skills in research and in advancing human rights issues,” Munro said. Part of that process is cross-referencing what is found on the Internet and evaluating whether the source can be trusted, he explained.
Irving Epstein, associate dean of the faculty, said IWU is among the first to do this as a seminar for which students receive academic credit.
The focus is on academic freedom, which Epstein described as the freedom to share ideas, travel, conduct research, publish and report findings.
As part of the teach-in, which honors the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the IWU Peace Fellows will present information about their efforts from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Hansen Student Center. The goal is to raise awareness about the work of Scholars at Risk, to explain the importance of freedom of thought and to get people involved, Munro said.
In addition to the Peace Fellows program, the teach-in will include a panel at 1 p.m. on prison reform in Illinois and a group discussion of Andrew Clapham’s “Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction,” which was part of a fall semester cluster of courses under the umbrella theme “Making Human Rights Real.”
All three programs are open to the public and will be at the student center.