On February 18, 2021, violent clashes broke out between gendarmerie forces and University of Toamasina students protesting the payment of their scholarships and student material allocations, resulting in one student killed and multiple people injured.
Students demonstrated on the University of Toamasina’s campus to demand the payment of their scholarships and allocations and voice their discontent with the university’s president, who they hold responsible for failure to secure the payments.
Reports indicate that students also protested outside the University of Toamasina campus, blocking a nearby public road. When gendarmes on the scene ordered students back onto campus, clashes broke out. Tear gas was deployed and students reported that live ammunition was fired by the gendarmes. Two students were injured and 23-year-old economics student Johanelle Jacques Michel was shot in the leg. Michel was hospitalized but later died from his injuries. Three police officers also sustained injuries during the protest.
Authorities announced that an investigation into the gendarmerie’s response would be conducted.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the violence and the use of lethal force during a student protest. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate to the situation, do not endanger protesters, and are not undertaken to restrict nonviolent expressive activity. Students likewise have a responsibility to carry out expressive activities peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of violent force during protests undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.