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: April 26, 2024

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Loss of Position

Institution(s):Arizona State University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 26 and 27, 2024, police arrested around 70 people at a pro-Palestinian student encampment at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe.

On the morning of April 26, a group called Students Against Apartheid established an encampment outside Old Main on the ASU campus.The protesters demanded that ASU divest from companies that have business ties with Israel, called for the resignation of university’s president, and urged that the suspended student group MECHA de ASU be reinstated. Shortly after the protest began, university police arrested three protestors for trespassing at an “unauthorized encampment” on the campus.

As the encampment continued, around 250 people, not all of whom were students, joined the protest. In the evening of April 26, university officials publicly stated that university policy prohibits overnight events on campus. ASU’s spokesperson warned that protesters faced arrest and criminal trespassing charges if they refused to disperse by 10:30 pm. As the curfew time passed, university police warned protesters to leave. When they did not, ASU police, along with Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, began arresting protestors. They used tear gas to clear the tents and arrested 69 people, including 15 ASU students.

Three weeks after the arrests, a judge dismissed all charges against the protestors due to a lack of sufficient evidence and missing paperwork from ASU police. However, ASU suspended the arrested students and did not allow them to participate in graduation ceremonies. The arrested students have filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents for infringing their free speech rights.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students and about a university taking disciplinary action against them for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression—conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments and the constitution of the United State. State authorities have a responsibility to respect and refrain from restricting or punishing the nonviolent exercise of the right to free speech and freedom of assembly. Simillary, university authorities have an obligation to ensure due process, transparency, and proportionality when engaging in disciplinary action, and should avoid punishments that restrict student’s freedom of expression. In addition to harming the immediate victims, such actions have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.