On March 24, 2019, authorities reportedly surrounded and prevented Al-Azhar University students from leaving campus in an apparent effort to restrict a peaceful protest over the university’s response to the reported rape of a classmate.
Reports surfaced on March 18 that a student was raped on the Al-Azhar campus. University officials reportedly denied the incident, claiming the student had traveled home with her parents, and reportedly discouraged discussion of the incident on social media. In an alleged voice recording, Al-Azhar Vice President Osama Al-Raouf allegedly threatened students with dismissal and legal action if they discussed the incident on social media.
Shortly after news of the university’s response spread, students held a campus demonstration demanding that the university acknowledge and investigate the incident, and hold the relevant university authorities accountable for alleged negligence. During the demonstration, security forces reportedly surrounded the students and called on the students to end the demonstration. Authorities reportedly closed the campus gates to prevent students from leaving.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about authorities preventing students from leaving campus in an apparent effort to restrict or retaliate against nonviolent expressive activity — 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, to which Egypt is a party. While authorities have a responsibility to maintain security and order, they must refrain from actions that interfere with or retaliate against the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.