On November 17, 2019, following a nonviolent protest on the campus of the University of Sindh in Jamshoro, Pakistan, local police reportedly charged 17 student protesters with sedition-related charges including criminal conspiracy, condemnation of the creation of the state, assaulting a top government official and attempting to provoke a riot.
The protest occurred on October 31, 2019, more than two weeks prior to the commencement of the criminal action. While authorities alleged that the students had been carrying flags, reciting slogans, and writing messages in chalk on public walls that were all anti-Pakistan, the students claimed that their protest had not, in fact, involved national politics, but instead had been focused on a water shortage within their hostel. Available reports do not suggest that the students either engaged in, or encouraged, violence during the protest.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the criminal prosecution of students in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity — 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 Pakistan is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from actions intended to restrict or retaliate against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, wrongful arrests and prosecutions in connection with nonviolent expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.