On September 29, 2016, three student protesters were arrested at a graduation ceremony at the University of Zimbabwe, after they publicly criticized President Robert Mugabe, who was presiding over the event.
According to reports, Tonderai Dombo, the former president of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (Zinasu), led the protests, holding up a placard demanding that President Mugabe take action to address unemployment. A second student, Andile Mqenqele, was reportedly arrested after singing an anti-government song. A third student, Zibusiso Tshuma, reportedly referred to President Mugabe as “Satan.”
According to reports, Dombo, Mqenqele and Tshuma later pled guilty to the charge of criminal nuisance, under Section 46 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, were each fined $10, and were released from custody.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest students in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to free expression and association, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to free expression, so long as it is exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.