Students and supporters of the University of Costa Rica (UCR) marched o the Supreme Court on Thursday to demand respect for the autonomy of the nation’s public universities in response to an arrest made by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) on the UCR campus earlier this week.
The march began in San Pedro and included demonstrators from all four public universities. Students and professors charge that OIJ agents violated the university’s sovereignty, guaranteed under article 84 of the Costa Rican Constitution, by entering campus grounds to pursue a state investigation.
According to local news sources, a request by OIJ officials to enter the campus’ west entrance Monday morning was denied by university security guards who claimed the agents did not have permission from the university rector’s office.
Agents apparently then headed towards the traffic police office on the campus’ east side near the education building. They entered and arrested an official named Gómez who is accused of soliciting a ¢20,000 (about $40) bribe from a bus driver or an alleged traffic violation.
A group of students saw the arrest unfold and confronted the OIJ agents. The showdown escalated into a whirlwind of punches, kicks and baton swings involving more than 200 students, 15 national police officials and 30 OIJ agents.
National police officers reportedly detained angry rioters outside the education building, placing students in choke holds and dragging them across the pavement. Students resisted with shouts, kicks and shoves.
By 2:30 p.m., the scene had calmed and five people were arrested for obstructing authority, according to the Public Security Ministry.
The National Police issued a statement Monday afternoon denying involvement with Gómez’ arrest, stating the officers arrived in response to calls bout the riot.
The UCR rector’s office spokeswoman, Lupita Flores, told the daily La Nación that they were not consulted by the OIJ and that the university does not authorize agents to enter the campus.
In a statement, OIJ director Jorge Rojas said, “at no time did we disrespect the autonomy of the public (universities), in this case that of the University of Costa Rica.”
Rojas claimed that an OIJ agent attempted to detain Gómez outside the university’s boundaries Monday morning, but when the agent identified himself, Gómez drove onto the campus and entered a building.
According to Rojas, because the UCR officer failed to respect the OIJ agents while off campus, they had the right to arrest Gómez on university grounds, despite the fact that the OIJ was unable to coordinate a response from the university as the events unfolded.
Rojas added that OIJ agents took Gómez to an off-campus building to question and search him after the arrest.
On Tuesday, a penal court released Gómez without charges, press officials from the Public Security Ministry said.
The Attorney General’s office requested the suspension of Gómez from his duties, and on Tuesday appealed the penal court’s decision to release the official.