On September 9, 2019, riot police and paramilitary groups reportedly surrounded the Central American University – Managua (UCA) in an effort to prevent students from carrying out a protest march over education funding.
The Student Defense Movement (MDE), a group comprised of students from UCA, organized the march to demand that the government fulfill its obligations to fund the UCA. Sources indicate that the government withheld funds in apparent retaliation for protests led by UCA students in April 2018. The funding cuts reportedly affected some two thousand students who attend UCA on scholarships.
Before students were able to leave campus for the march, dozens of officers from Nicaragua’s national police, commonly referred to as the Orteguista Police (PO) — a reference to President Daniel Ortega — arrived on the scene with riot shields and surrounded the campus grounds. With the campus surrounded, students marched inside the university, holding blue and white flags and chanting protest slogans. According to La Prensa, PO officers use police dogs to “intimidate and harass passers-by.” Paramilitary groups also reportedly accompanied the PO that day.
In September 2018, President Ortega banned protests following a months-long massive protest movement against his government. Since then, civil society groups have sent notifications to the PO ahead of their protests. In a notification to police on September 2, 2019, MDE informed police that they would march from La Plaza de las Victorias to the UCA campus. Police, apparently, never responded to MDE’s notification.
Sources indicate that UCA was not the only location targeted by the PO during the day of protest. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua was also surrounded, with a group protesting related issues from inside.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by efforts by police to restrict the 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 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nicaragua is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, efforts by police to restrict or intimidate student protesters undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.