On April 5, 2017, Venezuelan police reportedly clashed violently with student protesters on the campus of Tachira Experimental University (UNET), as they demonstrated against a controversial ruling by the Supreme Court one week earlier.
On March 29, the Supreme Court had issued a ruling through which it indefinitely assumed the National Assembly’s legislative functions, ostensibly based on accusations that members of opposition parties had been elected to the body improperly. The ruling sparked major controversy in Venezuela and abroad, with critics charging that it would provide President Nicolas Maduro with unchecked executive power. Protests erupted throughout the country, and continued for several days after the ruling.
According to reports, the April 5 clashes began when students blocked roads near the campus, and the police attempted to disperse them. The protests continued on campus as hooded students threw stones and molotov cocktails, while police responded with stones, tear-gas and shotgun pellets. Reports indicated that at least 21 students were treated for teargas inhalation and shotgun wounds. On April 6, university authorities ordered classes temporarily suspended.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence on campus. 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, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect the right to free expression. Use of excessive force in response to campus protest unnecessarily increases the risk of physical harm to individuals and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Likewise, while students have the right to free expression and assembly, those rights must be exercised in a manner that is consistent with university values including non-violence and social responsibility.