Repressive bodies attack, send a message of fear to human rights defenders

by  Translated by Katherine Wingfield-Dobbs.  /  October 3, 2017  / No comments

Tony Morales. Image from https://en.justiceandpeace.nl/news/justice-and-peace-netherlands-calls-on-honduras-to-drop-charges-against-tomy-morales-and-her-colleagues

Last September 8, four human rights defenders were attacked by repressive State bodies, when they were trying to rescue students from the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), who remained trapped inside a cordon of police and security guards. Who knows what would have happened to them without the presence of two men and two women defenders who risked their lives to protect the youngsters.

Since the end of May this year, there have been constant student protests, culminating in a 50-day hunger strike. But this has not resolved the issue. Instead of using dialogue, the authorities have continued to replicate the practice (also used in 2015 and 2016) of using criminal proceedings and campaigns of discreditation and stigmatization through various media and social networks.

After almost four months of regular student protests, things were getting worse, with the constant presence of human rights defenders, in some form, for more serious actions against the physical integrity of human rights defenders.

Alongside this, the campaigns of discreditation against the defenders is a constant; in statements issued by the university, they are labelled as an ultra-leftist group.

The complaints by human rights defenders, from the arbitrary acts by workers from the university to Rector Julieta Castellanos, always elicit a response.

On June 7, in the face of a complaint, a police investigation revealed that the university had asked police to infiltrate the Student Movement. A statement was circulated with a veiled threat towards the human rights defender, which was then made public to the media.

Acts of aggressive response are not only directed towards the defenders of human rights but also against international bodies such as the Office for the High Commission of the United Nations for Human Rights in Honduras (OHCUNHR), merely because this institution spoke out against the criminal sentence three students were charged with last June. The response from the University was not long in coming and was virulent to the extreme in discrediting the OHCUNHR.

Things have gone up a level, and on September 8th, went beyond the limits, when the human rights defenders Tomy Morales of ASOPODEHU, Carlos del Cid from the International Ecumenical Observatory on Human Rights, Ariel Díaz from the Youth Association for Human Rights, and Hedme Castro of ACI-Paticipa accompanied students to protect them from repression.

There arose severe situations against the physical integrity of the defenders and towards the seven students who were locked in by the UNAH security guards.

On a National Commission for Human Rights bus, the guards pretended to protect the physical integrity of the students, but instead they suffered a lack of dialogue and a repressive response with pepper spray and batons from the police. Furthermore, the University accused the students of a cover-up and assault.

The police used cruelty when attacking the defenders and students, spraying them with pepper spray in their faces. The piercing cries of those affected did not bother the guards; they held them with their hands behind their backs, so that they could not help each other or cover their eyes.

Defender Carlos del Cid, who is 80 years old, was shouting to the police that he was a diabetic. He now has damage to 80% of his cornea in his left eye and 25% of the right one, and he will need plenty of rest in order to recover.

Faced with such barbarism, human rights organizations requested the dismissal of the police chiefs who ordered the attack, an impartial investigation and punishment for criminal actions, as well as the dismissal of the Security Minister.

The Police Debugging Board proceeded, according to a press statement, to suspend the officials whilst the investigation is carried out. Up to now, no progress report has been published about these investigations.

Human rights defender and journalist, Tomy Morales, is resting from the gases that affected her nervous system and left her with the after-effects of hypertension.

This attack had a clear message in the context of the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández, by establishing that the fear of being watched is the norm for human rights defenders in the UNAH, and putting into the minds of those who would dare defend human rights in Honduras, that they will not be respected. Thus, the response, both from human rights organizations and the international community, must be severe.

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