On May 27, 2021, police fired tear gas at Kyambogo University (KYU) students participating in a strike on campus. Police also arrested eight students during the demonstration.
On the morning of May 27, KYU’s vice-chancellor posted an announcement to the university’s website confirming that six students and two administrators had tested positive for COVID-19. The VC stated that, in response, the university would be continuing coursework online.
Later the same morning, students gathered on campus to protest against the university administration’s decision to suspend in-person learning, claiming that some students did not have the proper equipment to continue school online. The Kampala Metropolitan Police’s spokesperson confirmed that the university’s Student Guild Representative Council had organized the protest. One report indicates that students blocked the main roads to the campus with bonfires. Video footage of the protests shows students nonviolently protesting on campus. Police arrived on campus to disperse the protesters and arrested eight students. The students were reportedly charged with “inciting violence” and held at Jinja Road Police Station before they were released later that night.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students in response to a non-violent, on-campus student protest — 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 Uganda is a party. While state authorities have a right to maintain public order and safety, they should refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent, responsible expressive activity or assemblies. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of arrests, especially when intended to restrict on-campus student expression, undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.