On January 26, 2021, security guards clashed violently with students protesting outside the University of Central Punjab, in Lahore.
Hundreds of students staged a sit-in outside the university gates to protest the university’s decision to hold exams in-person after a semester of remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students had requested to meet with the university administration regarding the examinations. Available reports suggest that tensions grew as students protested outside the university gates, which security guards kept closed. Some protesters reportedly kicked and threw stones at the gates. At one point, the gates opened and security guards charged with batons. Security guards beat back students with their batons, while some students reportedly threw stones in return.
At least 36 students were detained by the police at the protest site; more students were arrested in the subsequent days. An unspecified number of protesters were reportedly injured.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about security guards’ use of force against students during an on-campus protest. While university security personnel have a right to maintain order and safety on-campus, they should refrain from use of force and ensure that their response is proportionate to the situation and does not result in harm to members of the campus community. State and university authorities further have an obligation to refrain from restricting student-led protest activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. Students should be reminded to refrain from violent activities in their expression as they too have a responsibility to exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent force intended to restrict student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.