A dozen gendarmes in the island nation of Comoros opened fire during a student protest at Said Mohamed Cheick High School in the capital, Moroni, on Monday, February 20. The gendarmes also used truncheons to beat several protesters. One video shows a group of gendarmes beating a young man in the back of a pick-up truck in the courtyard of the high school, in front of dozens of witnesses.

The gendarmes beat the student in the back of a pick-up belonging to the PIGN [Editor’s note: the intervention squad of the national military police, or, in French, the peloton d’intervention de la gendarmerie nationale], which they had parked in the compound of Said Mohamed Cheick High School. In front of dozens of witnesses, six gendarmes climbed into the back and started being the student, who is wearing a white T-shirt. The student is eventually pushed to the ground. When the footage ends, he is still being beaten.

This amateur video shows gendarmes beating a young protester in the courtyard of Said Mohamed Cheick High School on Monday, February 20, 2017.

Several gendarmes patrol around the vehicle, guns in hand. Assad Ibrahim, a 21-year-old student, was hit with a bullet, even though he had not been demonstrating in the street but had stayed inside the classroom with some classmates.

"I was inside a classroom with some classmates when the gendarmes stormed the school. We hid in a small side room, but one of the gendarmes entered and started hitting one of the students. I went back into the classroom but the same gendarme followed me and shot at me," Ibrahim said in an interview with local press from his hospital bed.

Authorities quickly responded to the incident and suspended the gendarmes accused of carrying out the violence. They are currently in prison, awaiting trial.

Mohamed Yahya, a senior member of the gendarmerie, said that the police had fired only rubber bullets, during an interview with a local newspaper, La Gazette des Comores, published on February 23, 2017.

"That day has been burned into my memory"

Our Observer, a 22-year-old student in his final year at the high school, was there when it happened and said that the day was traumatising. The France 24 Observers Team has chosen to withhold his name to protect his safety.

On that day, classes started at 7am, like any other day. Around 8am, police came and arrested our principal. He was accused of having been involved in dodgy business involving an electricity scam several years ago, long before he was principal. The teachers were furious about the arrest. They explained to us students what had happened before they all left school to protest at the ministry of energy, which is located nearby, to demand the release of their boss.

Quite a few students started a peaceful protest outside of the high school and began to march towards the energy ministry under the supervision of several police officers. I stayed in the school; I didn’t join them.

However, at 10am, the gendarmes arrived on the scene and the situation quickly deteriorated. The gendarmes started firing tear gas and beating the student protesters.

All in all, about 20 students were injured in the incident. One of them was shot inside the high school, where many students had remained.

This photo of bullet casings was posted on a Facebook page dedicated to information about Said Mohamed Cheick High School.

Another student was beaten in the back of a pick-up [the scene captured on video]. I witnessed the incident. The gendarmes were beating him in the street. They stopped and put him in the back of the pick-up. They then drove the truck into the school compound and started beating him again in front of everyone.

The student was taken to police headquarters, where our principal was being held. The student wasn’t released until about noon, when he was taken to the hospital. Luckily, all of the students who were injured are now safe.

This photo was posted on a Facebook page dedicated to information about Said Mohamed Cheick High School.

I was shocked and outraged to see the gendarmes come into a school environment, not to restore calm, but just to assault young people. I was horrified. What I saw that day has been burned into my memory.

This isn’t the first time that the gendarmes have assaulted students; however, it is the first time they have opened fire on us. It is also the first time that I’ve seen a situation deteriorate into this kind of madness. In 2015, we took over the school to demand the end to a teacher’s strike. We were badly treated by security forces then, but it was nothing like what we experienced on Monday [the 20th].

To protest against the violence and to show their support for us, the teachers announced that they would halt classes until Friday. My parents are worried. They don’t want me to go back to school until the situation is back to normal.

The France 24 Observers team spoke with an army officer, who wanted to stay anonymous. He said that it is illegal for the intervention squad to enter school grounds without the principal’s permission. Judging from the day's events and the prior arrest of the principal, the army official surmised that the intervention was almost certainly illegal.

The president of the Comoros, Azali Assoumani, called the gendarmes’ behavior “unacceptable”. During a press conference on Tuesday, February 21, he said, “We must take steps so that these shocking scenes never again occur in our country.”