On October 23, 2017, police reportedly clashed violently with student demonstrators at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) in Islamabad. At least 70 students were detained during the protest.
The protest was reportedly part of a two-week strike by students, who were demanding an end to fee increases, improvements in hostel and transport facilities, accountability for university corruption, and the restoration of Baloch and Sindhi students who had allegedly been expelled without due process after being involved a violent clash between student groups in May 2017. Due to the strike, the university had been closed for over two weeks by the time of the police clashes.
On October 20, QAU’s administration invited protesting students—with the exception of members of the Baloch Council, who organized the protests—to a meeting to discuss their demands. While university officials agreed to suspend the fee increases, among other demands, they refused to restore the status of expelled students. In response to the university’s decision to refuse this demand and to bar Baloch Council students from the meeting, the Baloch Council members decided to continue their strike.
On October 23, QAU officials called the police to campus, seeking to end the students’ strike and resume normal campus activities. The police reportedly used violence against the striking students, and arrested at least 70 students for “disrupting campus activities;” the students were released on October 25. Some reports indicate that police raided university residence halls to arrest students participating in the strike.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of excessive force and arrest of students. While authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order and protecting property, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect the right to free expression. Use of excessive force in response to alleged unrest unnecessarily increases risks of physical harm to individuals and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Likewise, while students have the right to free expression and assembly, those rights must be exercised in a manner that is consistent with university values including non-violence and social responsibility.