On April 3, violence erupted during a student protest on the edge of the campus of the Universidad Central de Venezuela, as government troops prevented students from leaving the university grounds for a march to the Economic Vice-President’s office to protest the growing economic crisis. The troops reportedly fired tear gas and used flash-bang grenades, while protesters threw stones and firecrackers, reportedly injuring one police officer. At the same time, masked pro-government vigilantes attacked students inside campus with metal pipes and wooden rods, leaving several hurt and at least three students hospitalized. The protest was part of a series of demonstrations in Venezuela in recent months, in which as many as 35 people have been killed.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the escalating violence on university campuses in Venezuela, and calls on all sides to exercise restraint. State and university authorities, while they have a legitimate interest in maintaining order and protecting property, must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, that respect peaceful expression, and that minimize the risk of physical injury. Use of excessive force in response to campus protest unnecessarily increases risks of physical harm to individuals and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy. At the same time, while students have the right to free expression, that right does not extend to violence or the destruction of property; on-campus expression must be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with university values including social responsibility. Student violence creates unnecessary risks of physical harm to individuals and property and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy.