SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: December 18, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):University of Madras

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 18, 2019, police reportedly detained several students during a protest against citizenship bill recently signed into law, at the University of Madras (UNOM).

Beginning December 13, students have held protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which expedites citizenship for several religious minorities but does not include Muslims. Critics of the bill have argued that it is discriminatory and violates the secular nature of India’s constitution. During the protests, students have been met with intense police force and arrests.

On December 18, students participated in the second day of a sit-in at UNOM, where they protested the citizenship bill and police violence against students at Jamia Millia Islamia University (see report). Kamal Haasan, the founder of the political party Makkal Needhi Maiam and a vocal opponent to the citizenship bill who was planning to meet with the students to support their protest efforts, was reportedly denied entry to campus. Later that night, police reportedly detained the student protesters, brought them to the Triplicane police station, and told them to return home.

UNOM declared the campus closed for holiday until December 23, when the regular winter holiday will begin. UNOM also closed its student dormitories and asked all students to vacate their rooms.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students in an apparent effort to restrict the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — 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 India is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, arrests intended to restrict expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.