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A lecturer who left Pakistan after he was targeted for speaking out about the murder of one of his students, has a new start studying for a PhD Degree in Communications, Media and Cultural Studies at Solent University.

19th July 2019

Zia Ullah Hamdard was a lecturer at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan in Pakistan in 2017, teaching Journalism & Mass communications when one of his students, Mashal Khan, was murdered by an angry mob on campus.

Mashal had been accused of being an infidel/atheist and making blasphemous comments against the religion of Islam. According to news reports, a committee made up of different university officials was called together to discuss the allegations. However, without being given an opportunity to address the committee himself, an angry mob had formed on campus who subsequently tracked down Mashal and murdered him.

Zia spoke out against the University’s handling of the situation, alleging that the University administration played an integral role in the escalation of the situation. He decided to leave teaching and resigned from the university. Zia became one of the prime witnesses in the case, made testimony in the Anti-Terrorism Court and helped Mashal’s family win some justice when the court convicted 31 students and University employees involved in the murder. With his life and that of his family threatened, Zia was given a 24/7 armed guard for the next two years by the government.

In May 2019, Zia was assisted through the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), an international organisation that offers support to academics at risk to help them relocate and find new opportunities to continue their careers, to connect with Solent University. CARA works with universities to identify opportunities for academic staff at risk, to relocate to other institutions across the world.

Linking up with Solent’s CARA Champion, Monkiz Khasreen, a senior lecturer in architecture and construction, CARA sent details of Zia to Monkiz and six months on he’s now happily settled in Southampton, studying for his PhD. Under the arrangement with CARA, the University pays for Zia’s university accommodation, whilst CARA contributes his living expenses.

Monkiz commented on Zia’s story, saying “When CARA contacted us, I was touched greatly by Zia’s story and the ordeal that he had endured, all for speaking out and expressing his opinion. I knew that we had to do all that we could to help him restart his life here with us at Solent.”

Zia said: “It was the most tragic and brutal incident on a university campus. One of my most gifted students was killed and another was badly tortured. I had to risk my life to speak the truth, as the killers started a propaganda campaign to get away with the murder. I managed to expose the conspiracy on television, became a witness in the case, testified in the Anti-Terrorism Court and finally won some justice for my student after the court convicted 31 people involved in the murder, including students and university employees.

“This put me and my family at risk, restricting my movements and I remained in hiding during those two years, the trauma preventing me from having a normal life again, unless CARA helped me secure a Fellowship at Solent.

“I found a new life and a new hope to continue with my mission of working for humanity and saving youth from going into the hands of fanatics and destroying their parents dreams. I can’t find words to thank CARA and Solent University, who both helped me out at the most turbulent and traumatic days of my life.’

Vice Chancellor, Graham Baldwin, and Osama Kahn, Pro Vice Chancellor were adamant that Solent should help Zia, saying: “Academic freedom and free speech are a given right of a democratic society. As well as witnessing the callous murder of one of his students, Zia had his own life threatened. That just should not be so. We are delighted that we have been able to work with CARA to get Zia here, where he can continue his academic career in freedom and safety.”

Zeid Al-Bayaty, Cara Deputy Director, commented: “CARA has been assisting persecuted and at risk academics since 1933 and is currently supporting some 300 Fellows through the Fellowship Programme. Zia was facing a life-threatening situation in his home country, similar to many of our Fellows, and urgently needed help. Solent University stepped in promptly, providing Zia with a lifeline to continue his academic journey in safety.

“The hope is that Zia will be able to transfer the newly gained knowledge and skills back to his home society on completion of his studies. We are very grateful for the generous support the University offered Zia and for their commitment to CARA’s ethos of protecting academic freedom. Having placed our first Cara Fellow at Solent, we will be keen to develop our relationship further in the near future.”