On November 13, 2015, Zimbabwean police broke up a nonviolent student demonstration, organized by the Zimbabwe National Student Union (ZINASU), beating several students with batons, and arresting 16 protesters.
The students – members of the Student Representative Council from various campuses throughout the country – had gathered as part of a National Female Student Summit organized by ZINASU, aimed at inspiring female candidates to run for posts at the upcoming ZINASU national congress in December. The summit provided female students with a forum to discuss issues that affected their lives, including sexual harassment, lack of accommodation and high tuition fees. Based on the dicussions the participants had prepared a petition to be presented to Parliament. After dozens of students began marching through Harare, carrying posters, singing and calling out their demands, police arrived. They reportedly beat several students with batons, causing injuries including severe bleeding, swelling and head trauma; more than 15 students were later treated for these injuries in area hospitals. In addition, 16 female students were reportedly arrested and taken to Harare Central Police Station. They were released within about one day.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence and arrest of students in retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with students’ right to freedom of expression and association, so long as those rights are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Violence and arrest aimed at limiting free expression and association undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.