On May 7, 2019, a group of students at the University of Tizi Ouzou used violent force to obstruct an on-campus event commemorating the 39th anniversary of the Berber Spring.
Students had organized the event, entitled “From the Berber Cultural Movement of 1980 to the Popular Movement of February 2019,” to discuss the Berber Spring, a series of peaceful protests supporting Berber cultural and linguistic rights in Algeria that followed the cancellation of a speech by a celebrated Berber poet at the University of Tizi Ouzou in 1980. The event apparently drew parallels between the Berber Spring and the nationwide pro-democracy protests that have taken place since February 2019. Students invited Mouloud Lounaouci and Arezki Kecili, two prominent Berber activists associated with the 1980 protests, to speak at the event.
On the day of the event, shortly before Lounaouci and Kecili were scheduled to speak, a group of students reportedly entered the campus auditorium where the event was taking place, voiced their disapproval of the event and demanded its cancellation. Members of the group then reportedly attacked some of the event’s attendees and threw a tear gas canister. Shortly thereafter, the speakers fled the venue and the event was abandoned.
The day after the incident, the rector of the University of Tizi Ouzou condemned the violence that had taken place and vowed to hold the perpetrators responsible.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about students’ use of violence to restrict expressive, academic activity on campus. While students have the right to freedom of expression, exercise of that right does not extend to violent conduct. State authorities have a responsibility to protect higher education communities and to hold perpetrators of violent attacks responsible. In addition to the harm done to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.