Student beaten by police during protest against strike

Tensions rose at the University of Antananarivo in Ankatso, Madagascar, when a student was badly beaten by police during a violent demonstration against striking lecturers.

Students who had been protesting about the strike by the union SECES – Syndicat des Enseignants Chercheurs de l’Enseignement Supérieur – which had halted courses for nearly two months, gathered on the campus.

Not for the first time events turned violent on 31 August when demonstrators started throwing stones, not only at the riot police but also at passers-by and local shopkeepers, reported Midi Madagasikara.

The police forces responded with teargas when demonstrators tried to set a telephone point for taxis on fire, according to L’Express.

They caught a first-year student, Jean-Pierre Randrianamboarina, who had also been apprehended during previous protests, and beat him before arresting him and taking him away for questioning. L’Express reported that he was injured and needed medical attention.

The strike

At the end of August, shortly before the incident took place, the Conference of Presidents and Rectors of Higher Education Institutions, or COPRIES, discussed the SECES strike at its meeting presided over by Higher Education Minister Professor Marie Monique Rasoazanaera, reported Midi Madagasikara.

The strike was having harmful effects on higher education, particularly on the university calendar, but the risk of a wasted academic year led the minister to reject any changes to the schedule.

COPRIES decided that courses should restart on 1 September, and lecturers were called upon to go back to work – especially as the government had attempted to resolve the crisis by adopting a new grade-related salary scale, as SECES had demanded.

Rasoazanaera suspected political manipulation within universities behind the strike, and called for dialogue.

All parties should wait for the result of an ad hoc committee inquiry into the conflict, especially as the ministry and SECES had already signed an agreement on some issues, including finalisation of introducing the ‘LMD’ – Licence, Masters, Doctorate – system based on the Bologna process of three, five and eight years’ higher studies, reported Midi Madagasikara.

But the lecturers still did not return to work.

Complaints of police brutality

Instead, the day after Randrianamboarina’s arrest members of SECES organised a meeting at Ankatso during which they decided to lodge a complaint against the police, reported Midi Madagasikara.

Not only did SECES condemn all forms of violence, said union representative Baholiarisoa Ralalaoarivony, but “the police have once again violated the university franchise by capturing and savagely beating students on the campus”.

However, while the students continued demonstrating the commander of the gendarmerie, General Rakotomahanina Florens, justified the behaviour of his officers against Randrianamboarina, asserting “the student had put up resistance” and that the police action was to “immobilise” him, said Midi Madagasikara.

It was not in dispute, said the publication, that the student had received punches, kicks and blows, and had been dragged across the ground and hit with truncheons.

Although according to Florens’ explanation it appeared such methods conformed to legal procedure, said Midi Madagasikara, defenders of human rights were unanimous in condemning police brutality against a defenceless student, which some observers estimated had been carried out by 12 officers.

Following Florens’ remarks, CREM – Circle of Reflection of Economists of Madagascar – demanded he be dismissed, reported Midi Madagasikara.

CREM denounced “the barbarism committed by gendarmes”, and said explanations given by Florens were “insults to young Madagascans; insults to all Madagascans”. The organisation demanded that those who had participated directly in the blunder be criminally punished and their superior dismissed.

Police inquiry

Three days after the arrest of Randrianamboarina, as students’ passions continued to run high, the gendarmerie’s General François Rodin Rakoto told a press conference an inquiry had been opened into the incident, reported L’Express.

Rakoto admitted that some officers had crossed the line, which he said might have been caused by tiredness and irritation due to the students’ insults and provocations.

But he said the inquiry would determine the responsibility of each party and who had infringed the law. If it was proved some had gone too far he would not hesitate to take measures. “Every year, more than 300 gendarmes are fired for bad behaviour, without even talking of those thrown in prison,” L’Express quoted him as saying.

In spite of Jean-Pierre Randrianamboarina receiving a six-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty on all counts – including demonstrating without authorisation, insulting police and violation of state security – students continued to maintain their pressure for courses to reopen, reported L’Express.

But early last week the Ankatso lecturers had still not returned to work, said L’Express.

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.