SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 11, 2021

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):University of the Free State

Region & Country:Southern Africa | South Africa

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 11, 2021, police reportedly used stun grenades against students participating in a protest at the University of the Free State (UFS). 

The March 11 protest, involving about 50 students, was one of several that had taken place that week at universities throughout South Africa, in which students challenged policies preventing students who owed tuition fees from registering for classes. A number of the protests ended in violent clashes between police and protesters.

Video footage shows police throwing stun grenades at close range at student protesters. Police reportedly beat one student, who was later hospitalized as a result. Police arrested 24 students for blocking the road. 

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force by police in response to a student protest — conduct that is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Instruments and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which South Africa is a party. While state authorities have a right to maintain order and security, they must refrain from the use of force and ensure that their response is proportionate to the situation and does not result in the harm of students. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force, especially when intended to restrict student expression, undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).