On December 9, 2019, Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice issued a ruling nullifying the appointment of two Central University of Venezuela (UCV) professors as representatives of the National Assembly before the National Council of Universities (CNU), a governing body of higher education institutions composed of university rectors and representatives from the National Assembly and various ministries, imposing a travel ban on the professors and freezing their bank accounts.
On December 3, 2019, amid a struggle for administrative control over Venezuela’s autonomous universities, the country’s National Assembly — controlled by opposition parties — appointed Manuel Rachadell Sánchez and Miguel Eduardo Albujas as representatives to the CNU. Albujas is the director of the Institute of Philosophy of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at UVC; Rachadell is a professor at the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences and served as a legal consultant for UVC. Both scholars were reportedly selected on the basis of their demonstrated concern for the autonomy of Venezuela’s universities.
On December 9, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (controlled by the ruling party) annulled the appointments for “colliding with the Constitution”, claiming that the National Assembly was in contempt and that its actions had no legal effect. In addition to the annulment, the Constitutional Chamber issued sanctions against Professors Rachadell and Albujas, including a travel ban, a freeze on their bank accounts, and a ban prohibiting them from selling property and other assets. The court also ordered criminal investigations against the scholars. And, as a purported precautionary measure, the court issued a travel ban barring them from leaving the country and blocking their financial assets and bank accounts.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about criminal actions, restrictions on travel, and other measures taken in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct that 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. Moreover, legislative efforts to stifle institutional autonomy and the higher education process raise grave concern for the academic freedom of scholars and students. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, travel restrictions limiting academic content or conduct have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.