On September 16, 2020, police reportedly fined ten students and arrested one student in connection with their participation in a nonviolent protest at the University of Sydney (USYD).
The Sydney University Education Action Group, Staff and Students Say No Cuts, and the National Tertiary Education Union organized the protest over proposed job cuts by USYD and proposed cuts to higher education by the Australian government. To maintain social distancing regulations put in place to combat COVID-19, the protesters wore face masks and gathered in groups of under twenty around different parts of campus. From the different gathering points, various speakers gave speeches condemning the proposed budget and job cuts.
Before the protest started, roughly 100 police officers, including riot police, were stationed throughout the campus. According to Honi Soit, ten minutes after the speeches began, police started dispersing protesters and issued a move-on order, alleging that the groups of protesters had “a common purpose” and exceeded COVID-19 social distancing regulations. Faculty reported to The Guardian that police told students and faculty that if they were planning to have lunch they were permitted to stay; however, if they were participating in the protest, they had to disperse.
Police fined at least ten students AUD $1,000 each for breaching public health orders. Police arrested one student, Adam Adelpour, for breaching COVID-19 rules and brought him to Newtown Police Station. Authorities reportedly denied Adelpour access to his lawyer until the following day after he refused to agree in writing to bail conditions that included a ban from the USYD campus, a curfew, and regular check-ins at the police station. Authorities then released Adelpour. If convicted, Adelpour faces a sentence of up to 6 months in prison and/or an AUD $11,000 fine. Adelpour states that protesters maintained social-distancing regulations and that he was targeted by police because he is a prominent activist.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about arrests of- and criminal penalties against students for participating in a nonviolent campus protest — 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 Australia is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to protect and refrain from restricting or retaliating against such conduct, as long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions and fines that restrict nonviolent expressive activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.