On April 8, 2019, police reportedly used violent force against student protesters on the campus of the University of Medical Sciences of Havana (UCMH). Police further arrested five of the students.
The students, who were from the Republic of Congo, had reportedly been on strike since late March, protesting the alleged failure of Congolese and Cuban authorities to disburse medical school scholarships. According to the students, their scholarship disbursements had allegedly been delayed for 27 months. Students began refusing to attend class and holding demonstrations in protest of the overdue scholarship disbursements.
At the April 8 protest, police reportedly arrived on campus in riot gear and with police dogs. The exact sequence of events is unclear. Reports indicate that police used force against and chased student protesters from campus. Videos and images allegedly taken on the scene of the protest show physical confrontations between police and students, including one officer raising a gun at at least one student. Some reports also suggest that students had thrown stones at police and damaged university property. Police reportedly arrested five students during the protest.
As of this report, there is no public information regarding what charges, if any, the students face or on what evidentiary grounds they were arrested.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force and arrests of students in an apparent effort to restrict students’ nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While state authorities have a right to maintain security and order, they must do so in ways that minimize the risk of injury or harm to individuals and that do not restrict the nonviolent expressive activity. Likewise, while students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have an obligation to refrain from physical violence and to respect institutional autonomy. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force and arrests to restrict or retaliate against student expression undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.