The Honduran authorities must take urgent measures to ensure the safety of student leader and founding member of PEN Honduras, Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, who is under surveillance following the start of a law suit against him for taking part in student protests, PEN International said today. The worldwide organisation of writers is concerned that Padilla is being targeted for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
“I have been informed by a number of sources, including our Honduran PEN Centre, that armed men are making their presence felt in the neighbourhood of Cesario Padilla and that they have made it known that they are there to harm him,” said John Ralston Saul, International President of PEN, in a letter to the Honduran Attorney General [Procurador General de la República], the Rector of the Honduran National Autonomous University (Universidad Autónoma de Honduras – UNAH) and the national human rights ombudsman (Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos – CONADEH). “I ask you to use your authority in order to intervene to ensure that the well-being of this citizen and of your student is protected.”
Padilla, a journalism graduate of the Honduran National Autonomous University (UNAH and board member of PEN Honduras, is being prosecuted along with two others for alleged “usurpation” of UNAH property in the capital Tegucigalpa in a case brought by the university authorities. The charges stem from their role in recent widespread student protests in defence of state education and calling for democratization of the governing bodies of the UNAH which included the occupation of some university buildings.
Padilla and his two co-defendants were among six UNAH students arbitrarily suspended from the university in December 2014 after taking part in previous protests about access to state education and student participation in governance of the university. They were subsequently re-admitted to the university after a ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice in February 2015. All three are also members of a student committee where they document human rights abuses within the UNAH (Comité Pro Defensa de los Derechos Humanos).
On 15 August 2015, Padilla reported that in the past few days he had been tailed by two unknown armed men in his neighbourhood who had also been keeping watch over his home. The men have made it known to Padilla that they intend to harm him. He and PEN Honduras believe that this surveillance is in retaliation for his activities as a student leader. He fears for his safety.
A month earlier, on 14 July, Padilla and his two co-defendants were ordered not to leave the country and to report to the court on a weekly basis. Charges were officially brought against them on 17 July and upheld at an initial hearing on 5 August. They could face a prison sentence of between two and four years if convicted under Article 227 of the Honduran penal code.
Ahead of the hearing on 5 August, PEN Honduras issued a statement expressing concern about the charges faced by Padilla and a lack of due process in his case and other 23 others involving UNAH students facing similar charges in Tegucigalpa, Coluteca, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba.
The organisation called on the authorities to refrain from criminalising social protest and using the justice system to generate fear among Hondurans. PEN Honduras also urged the UNAH authorities to enter into dialogue with their students and to respect their right to protest.
PEN Honduras is planning to hold a press conference on the case at the offices of the national human rights ombudsman (Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos – CONADEH) in Tegucigalpa today (10am local time).
For further information, please contact Tamsin Mitchell (Tamsin.Mitchell@pen-international.org)
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PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088. www.pen-international.org