On September 8, 2017, police forces reportedly attacked and detained eight student protesters along with four human rights defenders during a peaceful protest on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH).
In 2014, UNAH approved several regulatory reforms that student groups allege would, among other things, restrict student representation. For years, students opposed to the reforms have organized peaceful protests, which have been met with the use of force, detentions, arrests, and other efforts to restrict their activities.
On September 8, 2017, at approximately 5:00 AM, more than five hundred police officers were positioned to implement an eviction order at UNAH, where a group of eight students were peacefully occupying several buildings. The officers set up a blockade of the UNAH campus, while a group of human rights defenders arrived on the scene to attempt to mediate the situation. Police permitted the human rights defenders to monitor the situation on campus from a bus.
According to the human rights defenders, police had locked eight students in a building on campus. After an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate their release, the group of students jumped out of a window and entered the bus carrying the human rights defenders. The police then surrounded the vehicle, prevented the passengers from leaving, and sprayed pepper spray inside. The students and human rights defenders were then pulled from the bus and beaten, before being arrested and taken into custody by police. The students were later released and are facing charges of “illegal occupation,” while three of the human rights defenders face charges of “concealment” and “attack on state security.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about reports of violence and arrests of students and human rights defenders during a campus protest. While authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect academic freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and other applicable human rights. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with such rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibility. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.