On November 16, 2017, police officers and student protesters clashed on the Fendell Campus of the University of Liberia, reportedly leading to student injuries and the disruption of normal academic activities.
The students had gathered on campus to protest the university administration’s decision to close registration, allegedly leaving thousands of students unable to complete the registration process, and therefore without access to education, despite having paid their tuition fees. The deadline for registration had been previously extended from October 14 to October 31, and finally to November 9, 2017. Speaking on behalf of the students affected by the closing of registration, student leader Williams Dee reported that the students had twice asked the administration for a further extension, without success.
The protest began peacefully, but became violent when police were invited onto campus to disperse the students. Police reportedly used tear gas against the students, leading to student injuries, while students responded by disrupting normal academic activities. In addition, one officer reportedly drew his gun (but did not fire) on a group of students.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence during student protests. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to free expression, so long as it is exercised peacefully and responsibly, and must avoid disproportionate measures that may result in harm. 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.