On April 17, 2021, police deployed tear gas and fired gunshots into the air to disperse students protesting a national increase in tuition fees at universities.
Over 250 students gathered in Luanda for a protest organized by the Angolan Students’ Movement (MEA). The students were protesting a presidential decree authorizing the charging of tuition fees at public universities.
According to reports, students peacefully marched towards the Largo dos Ministérios, where a manifesto was to be read out to students; however, during their march, a subset of protesters reportedly sought to march instead to the Ministry of Finance. Police presence increased and at one point, police attempting to keep protesters on an agreed-upon march route deployed tear gas and fired gunshots in the air in an attempt to disperse the protesters. Some of the students had broken through a police cordon prior to the tear gas being deployed, according to one report. Three students were detained and later released.
In a press conference on April 21, MEA filed a criminal complaint against police officers for “violent aggression” towards students, which they claimed resulted in the injury of twenty students and arbitrary arrest of several.
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 Angola is a party. While state authorities have a right to maintain public order and safety, they should refrain from the use of force and ensure that their response is proportionate to the situation and does not result in harm to students or other protesters. Likewise, students have a responsibility to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly peacefully and responsibly. Disproportionate use of force, especially in the context of student expression, undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.