On March 7, 2019, Sudanese authorities reportedly used violent force against students participating in a peaceful vigil and protest on the campus of the National University in Khartoum. Police further reportedly detained an unknown number of student protesters.
Students have figured prominently in a series of nationwide demonstrations against President Omar Al-Bashir that erupted as a response to rising food prices in December 2018. Reports indicate that dozens of protesters have been killed and many more arrested, among them reportedly hundreds of women. As a response to unrelenting pressure from protests, President Al-Bashir declared a one-year state of emergency on February 22, banning all unauthorized public demonstrations.
Despite the ban, students gathered on the campus of the National University in Khartoum on March 7 to hold a vigil for the women detained in protests since December 2018. As part of a larger “March of Sudanese Women” held throughout Khartoum in the lead up to International Women’s Day, the students at the National University reportedly assembled and chanted slogans critical of the government and the state of emergency. Sudanese authorities reportedly responded by firing tear gas canisters into university buildings. Videos posted on Twitter apparently show plain clothes police officers beating and detaining students following the deployment of tear gas. Video evidence also allegedly shows officers beating detained students in the backs of trucks before leaving the campus.
As of this report, there is no publicly available information indicating the detained students’ whereabouts.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of and use of force against students peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they have an obligation not to interfere with the peaceful exercise of these rights so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. The use of violence and detentions as an apparent measure to restrict peaceful student expression undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.