On March 14, 2020, police reportedly arrested dozens of students participating in a vigil at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
Since December 2019, students at universities across the country have held protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The legislation expedites citizenship for several religious minorities but does not include Muslims. Critics of the CAA argue that it is discriminatory and violates the secular nature of India’s constitution. Students protesting the CAA have been met with intense police force, arrests, and other disciplinary measures.
On a February 23 anti-CAA protest in Aligarh, a city in Uttar Pradesh state, police violently clashed with protesters. Some protesters allegedly set fires, vandalized property, and threw bricks and stones at police. During the clashes, two anti-CAA protesters were shot. On March 13, one of the students, Mohammad Tariq Munawwar died at AMU’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital.
The following day, AMU students held a vigil on campus to mourn Munawwar’s death, call on police to arrest all suspects involved, and submit a memorandum (the contents of which are unknown as of this report) to senior district officials. Police reportedly confronted students at the main gate of the university and arrested sixty of them. Ten of those arrested were accused of “unlawful assembly;” the allegations against the other fifty students, if any, are unclear as of this report.
According to police, they had arrested one suspect for Munawwar’s death and were investigating other suspects at the time of the vigil.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students in an apparent effort to restrict the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting nonviolent expression or assembly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.