Equal Education on Wednesday called on President Jacob Zuma and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to help stop the “victimisation” of students arrested during fee protests.

Judge Presidents of all provinces needed to hold an urgent meeting with magistrates to find a way of dealing with the increasing cases coming before them, and for magistrates to not oppose bail, the organisation said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Wits student leader Mcebo Dlamini was ordered to stay in police custody after his arrest on Sunday.

He faces five charges, including malicious damage to property, assault and theft. He might lose the funding the Gauteng department of education had granted him, Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said.

Phahlane said Dlamini’s arrest led to allegations that police were trying to destabilise protests to demand free higher education by targeting student leaders.

“This is untrue.  The role of the police is to prevent, investigate and combat crime and to maintain stability,” he said.

Equal Education warned that criminalising protests was a step towards an authoritarian state. It felt that black people were being criminalised for protesting to demand what they had been denied for generations

The advocacy group urged students to exercise caution and restraint and to “remain disciplined and resolute in the face of police brutality”.

It said the State had been at the forefront of persecuting students. It asked for Zuma and Nzimande to show leadership and to intervene in the victimisation of students.