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: November 21, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):University of Florence

Region & Country:Europe | Italy

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 21, 2023, police forcefully blocked a pro-Palestinian student protest at the University of Florence (UniFI).

Studenti Di Sinistra (Students of the Left) and the Union of University Students (UDU), two student groups, organized the protest to call for “a clear position taken by the University and the rector on the ceasefire at Gaza and on Israeli crimes, [and] the complete cessation of all agreements with universities and Israeli institutions and with all war companies in our territory,” according to a statement published by Studenti Di Sinistra. The protest began as an authorized sit-in in San Marco Square outside the UniFI rector’s office. During the sit-in, members of the student groups approached the rector, Alessandra Petrucci, and requested to have a discussion of genocide added to the agenda of UniFI’s Academic Senate, however Petrucci refused the request.

Following this, the demonstrators left San Marco Square and attempted to walk to Brunelleschi Square nearby, which is the location of UniFI’s liberal arts library. Police reportedly feared that the students were planning to walk to Florence’s synagogue – which is a few blocks away from Brunelleschi Square – and prevented the students from walking further. A video shows police blocking students with riot shields and hitting them with batons.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force against students peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and 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 Italy is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting the right to freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force to restrict expressive activity 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)