On June 26, 2017, police in Zimbabwe reportedly arrested and used violent force against students protesting a decision by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) to raise tuition for medical students. UZ officials ordered the eviction of 600 medical students from student housing in response to the protest.
On June 15, 2017, members of UZ’s student executive council met with Vice Chancellor Levi Nyagura, during which he explained his rationale for the increase in tuition for each semester. On June 26, around 600 medical students held a demonstration in front of UZ’s Student Union to protest the tuition hike. Reports indicate that the demonstration was initially peaceful, starting with a group prayer led by prominent pastor and activist Evan Mawarire. UZ authorities allege, however, that students began throwing stones at campus police, while students claim that campus police used batons to restrain them. At least three students were later arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and public violence. They include: Ignatius Mukuchi, Steven Tsikirai, and Kudakwashe Guta. Mr. Guta has been released on bail and is expected to appear in court on August 3.
Shortly after the protest ended, UZ’s administration responded to the medical students’ protest by ordering their immediate eviction from the residence halls. A court nullified the university’s eviction on June 28 and students were allowed to return to their residence halls.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during student protests. State and university officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to free expression, so long as it is exercised peacefully and responsibly. Likewise, students have an obligation to exercise the right to free expression in a manner that is consistent with university values including non-violence and social responsibility.In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.