On December 7, 2020, gendarmerie forces prevented Omar Bongo University (UOB) students and personnel from entering the university campus following protests from students demanding their scholarships.
In November 2020, UOB students protested the non-payment of their scholarships for the 2019-2020 academic year. On November 23, students gathered at the Gabon National Scholarship Agency (ANBG) to express their dissatisfaction and demand payment of their scholarships. The students blocked traffic and police responded by firing tear gas. The following day, students continued their protest on the university’s campus.
On December 2, ANBG announced that it would pay the scholarship fees owed to scholarship holders in increments throughout the 2021-2021 academic year. Students rejected the proposal and resumed their protests on December 3, demanding their scholarship allowances in full. Available reports indicate that protesting students blocked traffic, but they do not suggest that students engage in physical violence.
According to reports, on December 7, armed national gendarmerie forces were stationed at the UOB university gates, refusing entry to university staff and students. The General Secretary of UOB told one news outlet that she was denied entry to the university and had not been informed of the gendarmes’ presence before arriving on campus.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by state security forces occupying and denying access to a higher education institution in an apparent effort to restrict nonviolent student expression — 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 Gambon is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain safety and order, they also have a responsibility to refrain from restricting peaceful expression and should respect universities’ institutional autonomy. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).