On May 16, 2017, Venezuelan security forces reportedly clashed violently with students protesting peacefully outside the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB) and detained a professor attempting to mediate with the security forces.
On the morning of the protests, eight members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) drove onto the UCAB campus and arrested communications student Nelson Navas for reasons that remain unclear. Reports suggest that Navas was not engaged in any protest activities at the time. Shortly thereafter, students assembled off campus to protest the GNB’s presence on campus and Mr. Navas’ arrest earlier that morning. GNB officers on the scene fired tear gas and buckshot at the students. Marcos Valverde, a professor of communications at UCAB and a reporter for the Correo del Caroní, was detained when he approached GNB guards in an effort to calm the escalating violence at the protest. Professor Valverde was taken into custody and released after eight hours.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of a professor and the use of force against students, in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association — conduct which 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 Venezuela is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to protect the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.