On September 25, 2019, a series of violent incidents occurred during protests by university students in Bogotá.
On September 24, Francisco José de Caldas District University (FJCDU) students held protests over allegations of corruption in public higher education institutions. Officers of the Mobile Police Riot Squadron (ESMAD) reportedly violently clashed with students protesting just outside the FJCDU campus (see report).
The next day, on September 25, students from several universities in Bogotá held protests decrying ESMAD’s violent response to the FJCDU demonstration. Both security forces and protesters engaged in violent activity during these protests.
At the National Pedagogic University (NPU) students were protesting on campus when a home-made explosive device reportedly detonated, injuring five people. Authorities have not announced whether a perpetrator responsible for the explosive device has been identified as of this report. At least one source suggests that individuals spotted setting up the explosive device were not part of the protests.
Following the explosion, NPU students continued their protest off-campus in the financial district of Bogotá. There, ESMAD officers fired tear gas and clashed with students. Sources indicate that hooded individuals vandalized automobiles during the protest. One individual was reportedly injured and hospitalized as a result of the violence.
At FJCDU, at least two hundred students, including some hooded or masked individuals, reportedly attempted to forcefully enter an administrative building on campus. ESMAD officers arrived on the scene and fired water cannons to disperse the students.
Following the protests, the mayor of Bogotá reported that 271 buses, including public transit buses, had been vandalized as a result of the student protests. It is unclear whether students or other protesters were responsible for the vandalism.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during student protests. While students have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they also have a responsibility to exercise those rights peacefully and responsibly. State authorities likewise have a responsibility to ensure that their actions are proportionate, do not harm members of the higher education community, and are not undertaken to restrict or retaliate against peaceful expressive activity. Such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.