On December 7, 2020, police reportedly arrested nine students at the Morgan Zintec Teachers’ College in an apparent effort to restrict a campus gathering.
Students had gathered on campus to draft a petition protesting a university decision requiring students to repeat the 2019-2020 academic year. The students were reportedly charged under section 37 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law Act, which prohibits “meeting with the intention to promote public violence.” No violence was reported by available sources. It is unclear what factual basis, if any, there was for the allegation that the students had gathered with the intention of promoting violence. The students were released on bail and ordered to appear in court on January 19, 2021.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of students in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — 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 Zimbabwe is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions intended to restrict nonviolent, on-campus expressive activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.