On May 17, 2023, four student members of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) participating in the “Black Monday Movement” were arrested for allegedly spraying graffiti on several buildings in the Central Business District of Harare, Zimbabwe.
On May 15, 2023, a group of students affiliated with ZINASU wore black in solidarity with political prisoners throughout Zimbabwe and protested democracy-related issues in the country, otherwise known as the “Black Monday Movement”. While the protest was largely conducted online, a group of four students demonstrating near the Ministry of Justice offices in Harare were arrested by police. Following their arrests, the students applied for bail, but prosecutors rejected their applications several times, stating that there was a high potential for re-offense and that they had a “strong case” against the students. The students were initially charged with criminal nuisance for reportedly graffitiing the buildings, but that charge was later changed to malicious damage to property, which can carry up to a seven year prison sentence. Ultimately after two months awaiting the bail hearing, the four students were granted bail on July 17, 2023 and ordered to each pay ZWL$500,000.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the excessive imprisonment of students. While state authorities have the right to police and protect the defacement of infrastructure, the imprisonment of non-violent offenders for several months is likely excessive. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from imposing overly harsh penalties for the exercise of the right to free expression and association, so long as it is peaceful and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, arresting students for peaceful on-campus expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.