HONDURAS: PEN Honduras Member Convicted at Sentencing Court
On Wednesday June 7, 2017, Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, a member of PEN Honduras, was found guilty of the crime of “usurpation” at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, UNAH) together with two other students, for exercising their right to freedom of expression and protest.
Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa along with two colleagues had created the Human Rights Defence Committee at the UNAH in July 2015, to document human rights violations in the context of the protests at the university, which were taking place on a regular basis inside the educational institution.
This ruling, which dismissed the evidence submitted by the defense representing Padilla and his two fellow students, was handed down at the Sentencing Court (Tribunal de Sentencias) in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, after the PEN member had fought a long legal process including detention and arrest warrants. The crime is punishable with between 3 and 5 years’ imprisonment. The judge will hand down the final sentence on 27 July 2017.
PEN believes that Padilla and the other university students are being persecuted for exercising their right to free expression, association, and assembly, which form part of the country’s constitution (Articles 72-75 and 79), as well as the American Convention on Human Rights (Articles 13 and 15), the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders approved by the UN in 1999, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 19 and 21), to which Honduras is state party. PEN calls on the Honduran authorities not to criminalize social protests and to annul the ruling issued against Padilla and his colleagues.
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Please, send your appeals to:
- The Honduran authorities, calling on them to overturn the conviction of PEN Honduras member, Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, whom PEN believes is being prosecuted for defending human rights, and exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly by peacefully participating in and observing student protests;
- Urging them not to criminalize social protest or use the justice system to generate fear, censorship, or silence among journalists, writers, and others in Honduras;
- Demanding that they protect Padilla, and thus put an end to any unlawful surveillance to which he has been subject.
Send appeals to:
National Human Rights Ombudsman
Dr. Roberto Herrera Caceres
Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CONADEH)
Colonia Florencia del Norte
Tegucigalpa HondurasEmail: [email protected]; [email protected]
We encourage you to send a copy of your appeal to your nearest Honduran Embassy.
***Please contact the PEN International office in London if you are sending appeals after 27 July 2017.***
Keep us informed of any action taken in favour of Cesario Padilla, including any response that you receive from the authorities.
PEN members are encouraged to:
- Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press, highlighting the case of Cesario Padilla and the students at the UNAH in Honduras.
- Share information about Cesario Padilla and your activities on his behalf on your social networks.
You can send messages of solidarity to Cesario Padilla through Emma Wadsworth-Jones [email protected]
Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, a member and board member of PEN Honduras, was found guilty of ‘usurpation’ of university property on 7 June 2017 at the Sentencing Court [Tribunal de Sentencias] in Tegucigalpa, together with other students from the National Autonomous University of Honduras (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, UNAH), who are accused by the university authorities of organizing student protests. This crime is punishable with between 3 and 5 years’ imprisonment under Article 231 of the Honduran Criminal Code. The criminal process, which they have been fighting since July 2015, criminalizes social protest and freedom of expression.
The UNAH authorities signed an agreement with the University Students’ Movement, (Movimiento Estudiantil Universitario, MEU), in which, among other things, they committed to discontinuing the existing criminal proceedings. However, they only did so with the subsequent cases – in this case there was a complete reluctance, demonstrating failings in due process, as well as stigmatizing campaigns against the university students.
In a statement given on June 9, 2017, PEN Honduras wrote the following:
“Like the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras, we feel alarmed because this judgment violates the fundamental human rights of students and restricts exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and expression. It also sets a disastrous precedent against the defense of human rights, work that is protected by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders requiring states in all parts of the world to adequately protect this right.”
In 2016, Padillia faced immediate detention for a second time, after the issuing of an arrest warrant on 7 June, which included another five students from the UNAH. They were accused of ‘usurpation’ of university property after allegedly participating in student protests held in June 2016. This latter case has been discontinued. Furthermore, in 2016 Padilla and Cáceres were subject to illegal surveillance by the Technical Agency for Criminal Investigation (Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal, ATIC), according to a complaint filed by the defense lawyers of the students in the most recent case. The complaint, submitted to the Public Prosecutor’s Office on 10 June 2016, also states that ATIC agents attempted to block Padilla, Cáceres, Velásquez and Ulloa from accessing the university, in addition to other irregularities. This constitutes an abuse of power, according to the complaint, since the students are not accused of a crime that merits such surveillance.
Padilla was also subject to surveillance in 2015; on August 15 of that year, Padilla reported that he had been followed the previous days by two unknown armed individuals, who also kept his house under surveillance. These individuals expressed their intention to cause damage to Padilla. Padilla and PEN Honduras believe that the surveillance was part of the reprisals launched against him because of his activities as a student leader, and that his safety was in danger.
In December 2014, Padilla and five other students from the UNAH (including Cáceres, Castillo, and Ulloa) were arbitrarily suspended from the university after taking part in similar protests. They were subsequently re-admitted, after the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice ruled in their favor in February 2015. However, after their expulsion and the harassment that followed, Castillo went to study in Costa Rica, where he received anonymous threats over the telephone on June 14, 2015, in which he was warned of the consequences of returning to Honduras.
On June 13, 2015, PEN International and PEN Honduras requested the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to intervene in the case of Padilla and the other suspended students. The ‘precautionary measures’ requested would oblige the Honduran state to protect the students’ right to freedom of expression, association, and education and to ensure a thorough investigation into alleged abuse of authority and human rights abuses within the UNAH. The case is pending decision by the IACHR.
See PEN Honduras’ statement of June 9, 2017, here.
For further information, please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Americas Program Coordinator [email protected]