Update: 80 Al-Azhar students suspended

Al-Azhar University has suspended 80 students and referred 400 others to the disciplinary investigations committee on charges of vandalism and assault, the privately owned daily Al-Watan reported Monday.

Tawfiq Nour Eddin, the university’s vice president, accused the suspended students of attempting to vandalize property, spread chaos, assault university staff and faculty, and disrupt exams.

Security forces also accused female engineering students of attempting to obstruct exams by beating their fellow students and throwing rocks at security personnel, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Interior on Monday. Fifteen women were arrested on these charges, said the MOI.

Also on Monday, the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters banned student protests on university campuses, unless authorized by university presidents.

The court was ruling on a lawsuit filed by Tawfik Okasha, owner of the private Faraeen Channel. Okasha demanded that all protests on campuses be banned, unless given prior approval by a university president.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse student protests on Al-Azhar’s campus Monday. According to the university’s student union, over 35 people have been injured in the clashes so far.

Two students, Khaled Haddad and Abdel Latif Khalifa, were killed last week in clashes between students and security forces, raising the number of causalities among the university’s students to three. The first victim, Abdel Ghany Hammouda, was killed less than 40 days ago.

The violent confrontations broke out inside the campus on Saturday, the first day of exams, leading to Haddad’s death after being struck in the chest and head by a bullet. The latest round of violence began after activists from the Students Against the Coup (SAC) movement called for a boycott of final exams. 

Clashes between students and security forces have been ongoing since then.

SAC, an umbrella coalition headed by Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated students to oppose the military-backed interim government, has repeatedly slammed police intervention at Al-Azhar University, denying any attempts by the coalition students to attack police forces.

Twenty-four Azhar students were arrested on Sunday. They were ordered detained for 15 days on Monday, pending investigations on charges of vandalizing public and private property, blocking roads and disrupting traffic, arson, as well as assaulting officers and citizens, state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

Several buildings on the campus were set on fire, with conflicting accounts as to who was responsible for the blazes. Students stormed exam halls and tore up exam papers in the female campus at Al-Azhar’s Faculty of Engineering, Al-Ahram reported.

Also on Sunday, students supporting the Muslim Brotherhood broke into the Faculty of Sciences building at Cairo University, disrupting the exams. The students chanted against the Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry, as security forces cleared a way for them to pass through the faculty building in an attempt to avoid further violence.

At least 510 students have been arrested since deposed President Mohamed Morsi was removed from office by military intervention, 211 of which belong to Al-Azhar University, according to a report released by the academic freedoms program of the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).

So far, 10 percent of these students have received prison sentences, notably including 12 Azhar students who were each sentenced to 17 years in prison for their role in the recent protests, according to AFTE’s census.

The report added that 37 percent of the students are currently still detained pending prosecution investigations, 4 percent are still await court rulings while 49 percent have no clear legal situation, due to the inability to get proper information on their legal status. 

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