On November 30, 2019, Pakistani authorities reportedly arrested Punjab University graduate Alamgir Wazir for his participation in a peaceful student protest. Criminal proceedings were also launched the next day against fellow organizers, including a scholar, and students for their participation in the same and related protests.
Students and activists across much of Pakistan participated in the November 29 “Student Solidarity March,” a day of action demanding students’ right to form student unions and an end to violence on campus, sexual harassment, and the privatization of universities. Organizers and speakers at the march included Wazir, the nephew of Pashtun parliamentarian Ali Wazir, scholar-activist Ammar Ali Jan, and Iqbal Lala, the father of the late Mashal Khan, who was brutally killed by students based on false blasphemy allegations, among others. Reports indicate that, while the marches created some traffic disruptions, they were peaceful.
The day after the march, reports surfaced that Wazir went missing and that unidentified individuals had abducted him from the Punjab University campus. News of Wazir’s disappearance sparked protests by the Pashtun Council, who demanded his release.
On December 1, a first information report (FIR) was issued against Wazir, Lala, professor Ali Jan, and two other organizers, accusing them of “sedition,” “public nuisance,” and violating the Punjab Sound Systems (Regulation) Act, in connection with the Student Solidarity March. At least two hundred fifty student protesters were also reportedly named in FIRs.
At a December 2 hearing, authorities authorized bail for professor Ali Jan, and two other organizers, Farooq Tariq and Kamil Khan; however, they ordered Wazir remanded in judicial custody for fourteen days. Wazir is expected to appear in court on December 17, 2019.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about arrests and prosecutions in connection with peaceful student expression — 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 Pakistan is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from actions intended to restrict or retaliate against student expression, so long as such expression is peaceful and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.