CEU Community Gathers for Solidarity Vigil in Support of Ahmed Santawy

On June 7, CEU faculty, students, and staff gathered for a solidarity vigil at the university’s campus in support of MA student Ahmed Samir Santawy. Organized by the CEU Student Union and the #FreeAhmedSamir movement, the vigil followed a statement issued by CEU’s President and Rector decrying the failure of Ahmed’s latest court hearing to secure his release. 

The CEU community, joined by representatives of the Austrian National Student Association (OEH), called on Egyptian authorities to free Ahmed – who has been unjustly imprisoned for over a year – and allow him to resume his studies in Vienna. 

PhD student Zsofia Bacsadi, a classmate of Ahmed’s, spoke on behalf of fellow students and friends. She highlighted how the events students organize in support of Ahmed reinforce the importance of taking care of each other, noting that the damage to Ahmed’s life cannot be undone. But there is still hope, she added, that on July 4th—which happens to be both the day the verdict is expected in Ahmed’s case and his 31st birthday—justice will finally prevail. 

Sara Velic, member of the OeH Chairing Team, declared that the National Student Association will not remain silent when such injustices occur. Academic freedom, she noted, is a human right and must be granted to everyone. Knowledge, science, and its teachings are free, as it is embedded in Austria’s constitution, she said. As this is not true in Ahmed’s case, the OeH will stay critical and loud, and will continue to be Ahmed’s voice. 

Professor Dorit Geva, Ahmed’s MA thesis supervisor in the CEU Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, shared a personal reflection on their correspondence. She relayed to Ahmed how her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, would “stretch hope” during his imprisonment by breaking up even the smallest pieces of food into minuscule bits. These would then be hidden, thus extending hope of survival. Ahmed in his response wholeheartedly acknowledged the analogy and its value under the current circumstances. Professor Geva went on to say that this situation, as devastating as it is, encapsulates the beauty of CEU. Namely that the granddaughter of Auschwitz survivors ends up teaching in Central Europe and exchanging letters regarding the universality of hope with one of her Egyptian students incarcerated by his own country for standing up for human rights and dignity. She encouraged everyone to join in calling for Ahmed’s release. 

The final speaker was CEU President and Rector Shalini Randeria. Among her earliest acts as Rector-elect was to lead an appeal to the Egyptian government with former CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff and mobilize fellow rectors of Vienna’s universities to join the effort. Rector Randeria stated that her role now is to ensure that all possible public pressure be applied as a university, together with organizations like Amnesty International and the Austrian Foreign Ministry. The Rector underlined that Ahmed is detained unlawfully, simply for speaking out as a citizen and as a scholar. Yet he has been extremely patient and courageous in the face of torture, beatings, blindfolding, and solitary confinement. “At the moment what we can do is hope, protest this injustice, mobilize and make our voices heard,” said the CEU President and Rector. 

For more information on how to take action, please visit the global #FreeAhmedSamir campaign on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.