13 September 2017

Justice and Peace Netherlands Calls on Honduras To Drop Charges Against Tomy Morales and Her Colleagues

Statement

Justice and Peace Netherlands denounces the violent assault on, arrest of, and subsequent charges leveled against four Honduran human rights defenders including former Shelter City guest, Tomy Morales.

 

Justice and Peace Netherlands denounces the violent assault on, arrest of, and subsequent charges leveled against four Honduran human rights defenders, Tomy Morales, Hedme Castro Vargas, Carlos Moisés Del Cid and Ariel Díaz. The four activists were reportedly subjected to acts of inhumane treatment including beatings, verbal and physical violence during their arrest and subsequent detention on Friday, September 8, 2017 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Tomy Morales, a former Shelter City Guest in The Hague, is a respected journalist and a leading member of the Asociación por la Democracia y los Derechos Humanos (ASOPODEHU), a non-violent organization based in the capital.

Tomy and three other colleagues were trying to protect the right of peaceful protest and a group of 7 students who were demostrating against controversial reforms imposed by their university, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, UNAH.

In the face of an overwhelming show of force by the police, Tomy and her colleagues called for an open dialog and for the protection of the physical integrity of the protesters who, early on Friday, September 8, appeared to have effectively been surrounded by a 500-member strong anti-riot police siege.

As Tomy and her colleagues tried to offer a safe passage to the students, they were violently assaulted by the authorities and later faced, for some of them, with trumped-up charges of “Terrorism” and “Concealment.” The group was later released on bail pending a hearing expected next week.

Tomy’s nonviolent work as well as that of her colleagues is valuable and should be protected. It is through the activism of Tomy, her colleagues and the rest of the brave Honduran rights community that Honduras can successfully move past years of violations and struggle for peace, justice and democracy.

Justice and Peace Netherlands calls on the Honduran authorities to honor their international commitments, drop all charges against Tomy Morales and the other human rights defenders. It further calls on the authorities to respect the rights of its citizens to protest and assemble peacefully without any fear of violence or retribution.

 

THE FACTS

Friday, September 8, started as yet another day of protest at the campus of Tegucigalpa's historic Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, UNAH, the largest publicly funded university in the country.

The institution was shaken by months of demonstrations dating back to 2014 when academic reforms were first imposed by the university. The changes were considered discriminatory by a faction of the students who led a protest movement to demand that the reforms be abrogated.

Despite repeated calls from the UNAH Teachers Association [1] as well as leading members of the Honduran civil society that the protests not be criminalized and that the university begins an open dialogue with the students the authorities chose a hardline approach: students participating in the protest were arbitrarily subjected to arrest or threats of arrest. Others were charged with damages to university property. On June 23, 2017, Roberto Antonio Gomez, father of student activist Andy Johan Gómez Jerónimo, himself a vocal critic of state repression, was murdered in the capital Tegucigalpa, in what Frontline Defenders interpreted as a murder “related to the human rights defender’s work with the [student] movement.” [2]

The tension at UNAH came to a head when, early on Friday September 8, a group of 7 students decided to take over parts of the campus "indefinitely" until the authorities accept a dialogue with them, leading to a university shut down.

Later that day, local media reported that over 500 anti-riot police in full gear laid a siege around the university campus, blocking all access to the institution, in what appeared to be the early stage of a planned assault on the 7 protesters still camped inside.

As the news of the siege started seeping out, and fearing for the students’ wellbeing in the face of an overwhelming show of force, a group of four leading human rights defenders, including Tomy Morales, Hedme Castro Vargas, Carlos Moisés Del Cid and Ariel Díaz in addition to a young student, José Francisco Bustillo, decided to break the siege and try to offer a safe way out for the protesters in a bus provided to them by the National Commissioner on Human Rights.

As the group of human rights defenders and students tried to leave the campus, they were charged by the police who beat them throwing pepper spray directly into their faces and through the windows of the bus before arresting them without a warrant and without charge.

The group later reported being transferred to a detention center in the capital where they were allegedly subjected to severe beatings and acts of torture.

The following day, Saturday, September 9, charges of “Terrorism” and “Concealment” were leveled against the group before its members were released on bail pending a first hearing scheduled next week.