A public prosecutor referred 71 students from Al-Azhar University to trial for joining “an armed terrorist group,” protesting without permission and rioting on campus on Monday.
A judicial source stated that the “terrorist organization” the students allegedly joined was the Muslim Brotherhood, which is classified as such by the government, according to the privately owned Al-Arabiya.
The students were also charged with inciting riots and resisting security forces since the start of the academic year. Judicial sources say the students are currently being detained, reported Al Jazeera.
The decision follows months of heightened security on campuses throughout the country. The Ministry of Education hired the private security firm Falcon to guard the gates of universities. However, according to many national media sources the security firm’s presence only exacerbated protests with students.
The Cabinet drafted a bill that would ban all political activity on the Al-Azhar campus in September 2014. Al-Azhar also closed down five on-campus dormitories due to maintenance work. The Al-Azhar campus and dormitories were the sites of many clashes between Muslim Brotherhood affiliated students and the police forces.
Following the results of former President Hosni Mubarak’s trial, in which he was cleared of all charges, there were nationwide student protests against the verdict. Security forces arrested at least seven students from Al-Azhar University’s main campus following scuffles with the police.
There have been several recent cases where Al-Azhar students were found guilty and sent to jail for violence on campus. Fourteen Al-Azhar students were sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison for acts of violence committed on campus in June 2014. A month earlier, 36 Al-Azhar students were sentenced to four years in prison for rioting during a protest on campus.
In the months following former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, there were many clashes between police and students on the Al-Azhar campus. According to a census from the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, 510 university students were arrested following Morsi’s ouster, 211 of whom were from Al-Azhar.
In the last academic year, university campuses have become the sites of violence; at least 14 students were killed in clashes with police and security forces, thousands were detained and hundreds were suspended.