SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: December 16, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):University of Panama

Region & Country:Americas | Panama

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 16, 2020, violent clashes broke out between police and students during a protest outside the National Assembly. One of the protest leaders, Ileana Corea, was beaten by police while being taken into custody.

Members of student organizations gathered near the National Assembly to protest against Executive Decree 830, which passed into law on December 11. The decree stipulates that financially dependent young adults under the age of 25 would not receive cash subsidies which were to be distributed to Panamanian citizens in light of an economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Panama’s National Police erected a metal barrier in front of the National Assembly, where they stood guard between protesters and the legislative hall. Some of the protesters attempted to remove the metal barriers and threw stones and bottles at the police. In response, the National Police fired tear gas at the protesters. Clashes and running battles with police broke out. 27 protesters were detained.

Sources indicate that one of the student leaders, Ileana Corea, was beaten by police while officers held her back after detaining her. A video of the incident shows officers holding her arms behind her back while at least one other officer punches Corea repeatedly in the face. Corea, who needed medical treatment for eight days due to the beating, filed a criminal complaint against the officer who punched her and is seeking $15,000 in damages.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a student protest, including the beating of a student taken into state custody. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate to the situation and do not endanger protesters. Students likewise have a responsibility to carry out expressive activities peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, violence, including the use of force during student protests, undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).