Honduras: Overturn the Conviction of Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa


Беларускі ПЭН-цэнтр сумесна з Міжнародным ПЭН-клубам заклікае ўлады Гандураса адмяніць прысуд журналісту Сэзарыа Алехандра Фелікса Падзілья Фігероа.

RAPID ACTION NETWORK

24 SEPTEMBER 2020

RAN 09/20

PEN International urges the Honduran authorities to revoke the sentence of journalist Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa. The conviction was made three years after the trial in which he was convicted for exercising the right to freedom of expression.

The sentence of the Cesario Padilla, board member of PEN Honduras, for the crime of “illegal detention of public property”, which includes three years in prison, forced labor while in prison, suspension of his rights and payment for alleged damages that the authorities of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) claim.

Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, journalist, journalism graduate, student leader, and board member and founding member of PEN Honduras, was convicted of ‘usurpation’ (‘usurpación’) at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras – UNAH) on 7 June 2017. The sentence was issued by a judge and recorded in an audio. It was not transcribed or delivered in a document to Cesario Padilla for three years, which made it impossible for the journalist to have access to justice and to present appeals or a new trial.

“Withholding the records of the sentence to prevent Padilla from defending himself, and for such a long time, portrays how the Honduran authorities are acting against justice and democracy and limiting the freedom of our colleague Cesario Padilla”, said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

PEN International believes that Padilla Figueroa and other university students are being persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, enshrined in the nation’s Constitution (Articles 72-75 and 79), as well as the American Convention on Human Rights (Articles 13 and 15), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 19 and 21), to which Honduras is a state party.

The conviction represents the culmination of a pattern of harassment that he has faced since 2014 for his part in student protests at UNAH, which called for an end to plans to privatize the university and for the democratisation of its governing bodies. Padilla Figueroa has faced ongoing harassment, including surveillance, in connection with his involvement with the protests.

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Please send appeals calling on the authorities of the Republic of Honduras to:

  • Overturn the conviction of PEN Honduras member Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, whom PEN International believes is being prosecuted for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly by peacefully participating in and observing student protests;
  • Immediately stop all unlawful surveillance of Padilla Figueroa and investigate his reports of unlawful surveillance;
  • Decriminalize student protests and allow students to participate in UNAH’s decision-making bodies, and ensure that conflicts within the institution are resolved through inclusive dialogue, in accordance with Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 13 of the ACHR, to which Honduras is a state party.
  • Take all necessary measures to ensure that UNAH students can exercise their right to freedom of expression, including peaceful protest and uphold the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that affirmed the ‘the right to publicly protest is an essential element of freedom of expression.’

Send appeals to:

Supreme Court of Justice

Lawyer Rolando Argueta Pérez President of Supreme Court of Justice Address: Centro Cívico Gubernamental Boulevard Fuerzas Armadas Tegucigalpa, Honduras Ph.: (504) 2240-6000 Email: [email protected] Twitter: @raguetaCSJ

National Autonomous University of Honduras

Rector of the University – UNAH Dr. Francisco J. Herrera Alvarado Address: Piso 12, Edificio Alma Máter, Centro Universitario, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Ph. (504) 2166100 and (504) 22167000
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @UNAH_Rectoria

Ministry of Human Rights

Karla Cueva, Minister of Human Rights
Address: Edificio Le Sage, Colonia Florencia Oeste, Boulevard Suyapa frente a Lama Motors / Volvo. Tegucigalpa M.D.C
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @sedhHonduras

Lawyer Danilo Morales
Executive Director
General System of Protection of Ministry of Human Rights
Email: [email protected] y [email protected]

Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Honduras in your country. Details of Honduran embassies may be found here.

Also consider calling on your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Honduras to raise the Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa’ case in bilateral and multilateral fora.

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

PEN members are encouraged to share information about Cesario Padilla and the campaign through social media.

*** Please send appeals immediately ***

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa and freedom of expression in Honduras;
  • Share information about Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa and your campaigning activities via social media.

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

Background

Protests at the UNAH have been ongoing since 2010, when students, teachers and trade unionists marched to protest the planned privatisation of the UNAH – the country’s only public university. Since then, the protests have grown and have widened to include calls for the democratisation of the institution’s governing bodies. The protests continued until the Covid-19 crisis.

In December 2014, Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa and five other UNAH students, were arbitrarily suspended from the university after taking part in previous protests. They were subsequently re-admitted to the university after a ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice in February 2015.

As protests continued at the institution, Padilla Figueroa and colleagues founded the Human Rights Defence Committee (Comité Pro Defensa de los Derechos Humanos), in 2015 in order to document human rights abuses occurring as a result of the protests. Later that same year, on 17 July 2015, Padilla Figueroa – along with fellow students Moisés David Cáceres, Sergio Luis Ulloa and Josué Armando Velásquez – was charged with ‘usurpation’ (‘usurpación’) of UNAH property, under Article 227 of the Honduran Penal Code, for his part in the occupation of a university building during a student protest.

Padilla Figueroa and his colleagues were found guilty of ‘usurpation’ on 7 June 2017. At a hearing held on 7 August 2017, the public prosecutor reportedly requested that a three-year sentence, among other penalties, be applied. According to PEN Honduras, Padilla Figueroa and his colleagues were in a form of legal limbo while they await a written copy of the sentence – which they required to file an appeal. In the meantime, he is unable to travel outside the country or have access to university facilities.

Shortly following Padilla Figueroa’s conviction, the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras reportedly stated: “The office expresses its grave concern regarding the ruling made in relation to the crime of ‘usurpation’, considering that on repeated occasions, the office has signalled – both publicly and in our discussions with judicial officials – that the use of this type of crime in the context of the criminalisation of social protest presents serious problems in light of international human rights standards.”

On 13 June 2015, PEN International and PEN Honduras requested the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to intervene in the case of Padilla Figueroa and the other 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.

In the interim, Padilla Figueroa has continued to face harassment and surveillance. On 15 August 2015, he reported that he had been tailed by two unknown armed men in his neighbourhood who had also been keeping watch over his home. The men had made it known to Padilla Figueroa that they intended to harm him. He and PEN Honduras believed that this surveillance was in retaliation for his activities as a student leader. He is currently working as a journalist, in one of the most dangerous countries for journalism.

In June 2016, Padilla Figueroa and some of his co-defendants reported that they had been subject to unlawful surveillance by agents from the Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations (ATIC), who attempted to prevent the students from entering the university campus, among other irregularities.

According to a complaint submitted to the Public Prosecutor’s Office on 10 June 2016, filed by their defence lawyers, the actions of the ATIC agents constitute an abuse of power as the students are not accused of a crime that merits such surveillance. The case is still pending.

Since 2015, Padilla Figueroa is part of the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, journalists and justice operators, government program to protect journalists. This includes police monitoring. Nevertheless, Padillla and PEN Honduras have reported that a police officer responsible for implementing these measures stopped doing so almost a month ago. According to his testimony, his residency has recently been photographed. Cesario Padilla is still under threat.

For more information, please contact Alicia Quiñones, Americas Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: [email protected]

You can read original statement on PEN’s International Site.