On March 1, 2022, police used force to disperse students peacefully protesting the apparent abduction of Quaid-i-Azam University student Hafeez (Hafiz) Baloch. 200 students were criminally charged following the incident.
Despite a warning from police, students set up a tent with posters in front of the National Press Club in response to the student’s disappearance. (Thousands of Baloch individuals have gone missing in recent years.)
Sources indicate that the police, including plainclothes officers, attempted to take down and confiscate the tent and then, as clashes broke out, began beating the students with batons. Six students were hospitalized as a result.
Following the protest, police charged 200 students with criminal and “sedition” charges.
The Islamabad high court would later declare that police used excessive force against the students and the charges brought against them were “an abuse of state power,” according to University World News.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the use of force and prosecution of students for their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — 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 Pakistan is a party. State authorities and security forces have an obligation to refrain from the use of force and criminal charges in response to nonviolent, responsible expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force and prosecutions to quell student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.