On June 7, 2016, the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for six students from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) on charges of “usurpation of university property,” related to the alleged occupation of campus buildings during a June 6 protest. The accused include Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, Moisés David Cáceres, Sergio Luis Ulloa, Josué Armando Velásquez, Dayanara Elizabeth Castillo and Izhar Asael Alonzo Matamoros.
On June 6, 2016, approximately 300 students reportedly held a nonviolent demonstration at UNAH’s Tegucigalpa campus to protest recent academic reforms, including an increase in the minimum passing grade for exams, rising student fees and lack of student representation in the administration. The students reportedly occupied the campus for a day and a half, leading the university to close temporarily. In the early afternoon of June 7, the students vacated the campus after police forces announced a court order for their eviction. That day, the Public Prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for the six students accused of “usurpation of university property.” If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison.
Of the accused, Mr. Padilla was the only one confirmed to have been on campus during the occupation; he was reportedly on campus to observe and document police activity. Ms. Castillo has reportedly been living in Costa Rica since December 2014 when she was suspensed from UNAH after participating in a similar protest. The four remaining students were reportedly off campus at the time. In addition to this latest accusation, they, along with Mr. Padilla, face a pending trial on a similar charge of “usurpation” from July 2015 in reponse to their participation in a prior occupation of UNAH.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary prosecution of students as a result of their nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association – conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Honduras is a party. While state authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order and protecting property, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, and comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression and association and academic freedom, as well as due process and fair trial.