On April 2, 2019, police violently clashed with Copperbelt University (CBU) students during a campus protest after several students were barred from taking exams. A few days later, the Higher Education Minister of Zambia announced the indefinite closure of CBU.
On April 2, CBU officials reportedly did not allow several CBU students from taking exams after allegedly poor academic performances in the past. Students held a protest on campus later that day in response. Police arrived shortly after the protest had begun, and ultimately dispersed the protesters using teargas. During a protest the following day, students reportedly damaged campus property, leading to the arrest of six students.
On April 5, Higher Education Minister Professor Nkandu Luo announced the indefinite closure of CBU. Luo also suspended student union activities and ordered students to leave campus within 18 hours. Luo reported that the decision to close CBU was in response to destructive actions by student protesters.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence occurring during a student protest. While students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have an obligation to refrain from physical violence and destruction of property. At the same time, while state authorities have a right and an obligation to maintain public order and prevent property destruction, they must do so in a manner that minimizes harm to the individuals involved and otherwise respects institutional autonomy and human rights. Likewise, university closures, even where reasonably necessary to maintain safety and university property, must be undertaken in a manner that minimizes the disruption of student life, with due regard for the right to education, academic freedom, and institutional autonomy.