On January 6, 2021, police used batons and water cannons against medical school students and recent graduates during a protest.
The students and graduates protested outside the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) demanding that it reverse course in its decision to not recognize medical school diplomas issued by 21 universities in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The protesters claimed that the universities PMC blacklisted were recognized by the World Health Organization.
Reports indicate that scores of protesters first rallied outside the PMC building in Islamabad, but then moved on to a major highway, bringing traffic to a halt. Police arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and ordered protesters to disperse. Some protesters allegedly threw stones at police after their arrival. Police then used batons and fired water cannons to force the protesters’ removal. An unspecified number of protesters, including a leader of the Foreign Medical Graduates group, were arrested and released later that day.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force in response to a protest by current higher education students and graduates. While state authorities have a right to ensure public order, they are obligated to ensure the security of higher education communities and to refrain from violent or disproportionate actions in response to protest activity. Likewise, while students and others have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they also have a responsibility to exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly. Such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.