Venezuelan authorities are using the justice system to illegally increase persecution and punishment of those who think differently, says Amnesty International in a new report published today amidst an increase in protests around the country which have resulted in several deaths and hundreds of people injured and imprisoned.
Silenced By Force: Politically-Motivated Arbitrary Detentions in Venezuela provides details on a catalogue of illegal actions on the part of the Venezuelan authorities to repress freedom of expression.
These include arrests conducted by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, SEBIN) without a warrant, the prosecution of non-violent activists for crimes ‘against the homeland’ and the unjustified use of pre-trial detention and smear campaigns in the media against members of the political opposition, among other measures.
The unending spiral of violence and repression during the protests in Venezuela is submerging the country in a crisis that will be hard to come back from, threatening the lives and security of the Venezuelan population, Amnesty International said following reports of at least two deaths and several people injured and detained during the protests around the country today.
The Venezuelan authorities confirmed that Paola Ramírez, 23 years old, and Carlos Moreno, 17 years old, were shot dead in San Cristóbal, Táchira and Caracas respectively.
“Stepping out into the street when protests are taking place in Venezuela should not be a death sentence,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“The tragic combination of growing violence, uncontrolled repression, and lack of action on the part of the authorities to guarantee freedom of expression and justice is a toxic mix that does nothing more than perpetuate violence.”
The most recent wave of arrests of leaders and members of an opposition party point to a systematic pattern of abuses against those who dare to express an opinion contrary to that of the government, Amnesty International said today.
Between January 11 and 12, MP Gilber Caro, member of the opposition political party Voluntad Popular, along with council members Roniel Farias, Jorge Gonzalez and political activists Stacy Escalona and Irwin Roca, were deprived of liberty after high level authorities who linked these leaders with Lilian Tintori, wife of the prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López, publicly accused them of carrying out "terrorist activities".
"It looks like the government of President Maduro continues with its witch hunt against anyone who dares to voice an opinion contrary to his policies. The use of absurd conspiratorial arguments to justify irregular detentions demonstrates Venezuela's lack of commitment to the promotion and protection of the basic human rights of all people in the country," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Director of Amnesty International for the Americas.
By Yaridbel Licón and Victor Molina, Amnesty International Venezuela
“I often woke up believing my strength was running out, believing I couldn’t keep going, and then I received photographs of Amnesty International human rights activists from all over the world requesting my freedom, respect for justice and for life. Infinite thanks, friends, without you I wouldn’t be here!” - Rosmit Mantilla, ex prisoner of conscience, unjustly detained in May 2014 and released in November 2016.
On May 2, 2014, a delegation of more than 20 members of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) burst into his apartment in Caricuao, a modest neighbourhood in west Caracas, where Rosmit Mantilla lived with his grandparents. A student, member of the opposition Party “Voluntad Popular” and a human rights activist, he never thought he would spend two and a half years of his life behind bars awaiting a trial against him that would never happen.
Prominent Venezuelan opposition leader, Member of Parliament, human rights activist and prisoner of conscience, Rosmit Mantilla has been released following 2 years in prison!
Thank you to Amnesty International supporters who took action on his case!
Rosmit send these personal words of thanks:
"I am a human rights activists borrowed by politics to humanize Venezuelan politics, to get some rights in the Venezuelan politcs.
I am very thankful for all the activism voices everyone has raised for me. My commitment right now is human rights for everyone."
The release of Rosmit, who was unfairly imprisoned since 2014 as punishment for his human rights work, must mark a profound shift in the government’s approach to dissent and freedom of speech. He was released after spending more than two years in pre-trial detention at the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service facilities in Caracas.
The release of a prominent Venezuelan opposition leader unfairly imprisoned since 2014 as punishment for his human rights work must mark a profound shift in the government’s approach to dissent and freedom of speech, said Amnesty International.
Rosmit Mantilla, Member of Parliament, human rights activist and prisoner of conscience was released after spending more than two years in pre-trial detention at the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service facilities in Caracas.
“Rosmit’s long awaited release is great news for human rights in Venezuela. He should have never been made to spend a second behind bars. The Venezuelan authorities must now build on this positive step and release all imprisoned activists and political leaders whose only ‘crime’ was to disagree with the government,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Rosmit Mantilla is an activist for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) and a member of the opposition party Voluntad Popular.
The transfer of a former opposition mayor to prison from house arrest at 3am this morning without any notice is a vile maneuver by the Venezuelan authorities to silence any critics amidst a growing political and humanitarian crisis in the country, Amnesty International said.
“Authorities in Venezuela seem to be willing to stop at nothing in their quest to prevent anyone from criticizing them, particularly as the political and humanitarian situation in the country continues to deteriorate,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Daniel Omar Ceballos Morales, former mayor of the city of San Cristóbal and leader of the opposition party Popular Will, was sentenced to 12 months in prison in 2014 after failing to follow an order to stop opposition protesters from erecting barricades in the city.
In August 2015 he was put under house arrest for health reasons. He is now awaiting trial on charges including rebellion and conspiracy to commit a crime in relation to the violent protests that took place across the country in 2014.
A new decree establishing that any employee in Venezuela can be effectively made to work in the country’s fields as a way to fight the current food crisis is unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labour, said Amnesty International.
“Trying to tackle Venezuela’s severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“The new decree completely misses the point when it comes to findings ways for Venezuela to crawl out of the deep crisis it has been submerged in for years. Authorities in Venezuela must focus on requesting and getting much needed humanitarian aid to the millions in need across the country and develop a workable long term plan to tackle the crisis.”
The Venezuelan authorities’ stubborn denial over the country’s current humanitarian crisis, coupled with their refusal to ask for international aid, are putting the lives and rights of millions of people at serious risk, Amnesty International said as it concluded a visit to the country.
An Amnesty International delegation spoke to public officials, NGOs, human rights defenders, lawyers and survivors of human rights violations in Caracas, Guarenas and the state of Táchira, on the border with Colombia. People spoke of the chronic lack of essential food staples and medicines as the country faces one of the worst economic crises in decades.
“Stubborn politics are seriously affecting millions of lives. The lethal combination of severe food and medicine shortages coupled with sky-high crime rates, persistent human rights violations and ill-conceived policies that focus on trying to keep people quiet instead of responding to their desperate calls for help are a recipe for an epic catastrophe,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Venezuela must urgently investigate the killing of an opposition politician or risk further political violence in the country ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, said Amnesty International.
“The killing of Luis Manuel Díaz provides a terrifying view of the state of human rights in Venezuela. Unless authorities are decisive in investigating this tragedy and bringing those responsible to justice, the door will be wide open to more violence,” said Marcos Gómez, Director at Amnesty International Venezuela.
Luis Manuel Díaz, leader of the Democratic Action party in Guarico in Central Venezuela was shot dead during a public meeting.
Opposition candidates and human rights activists have reported other attacks and intimidation during the electoral campaign.
Parliamentary elections will be held on 6 December.
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Venezuela must halt its escalating campaign of attacks and harassment against human rights activists and instead publicly support their crucial and legitimate work, said Amnesty International as the country faces a hearing at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights on Monday 19 October.
“Defending human rights in Venezuela has become an increasingly dangerous occupation with activists harassed and attacked for criticizing the authorities,” said Marcos Gómez, Director at Amnesty International Venezuela, who will represent the organization at the hearing.
In recent weeks, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has publicly criticized the work of human rights organizations and activists. In a televised speech on 21 August he discredited Marino Alvarado, a member of local human rights group Provea, stating his organization was right-wing and questioning its work.
A recent armed attack on a human rights defender and his 9-year-old son in a raid on their home in Caracas must be a wake-up call to the Venezuelan government to immediately ensure the effective protection of human rights defenders, said Amnesty International today.
Marino Alvarado was attacked in his doorway as he arrived home with his son on 1 October, according to local rights group Provea. Three unknown attackers forced their way into the building brandishing 9mm calibre firearms and hitting Marino Alvarado on the head. In the 40 minute ordeal, they bound him and his son, raiding the apartment from which they took two laptops, a tablet, two phones, a camera and cash.
“This appalling attack on Marino Alvarado and his child is only the latest in a disturbing string of attacks against human rights defenders in Venezuela,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Americas.
The 13 years and nine months prison sentence against a Venezuelan opposition leader without any credible evidence against him shows an utter lack of judicial independence and impartiality in the country, said Amnesty International.
“The charges against Leopoldo López were never adequately substantiated and the prison sentence against him is clearly politically motivated. His only ‘crime’ was being leader of an opposition party in Venezuela,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“He should have never been arbitrarily arrested or tried in the first place. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
“With this decision, Venezuela is choosing to ignore basic human rights principles and giving the green light to more abuses.”
Christian Holdack, Demian Martín and Ángel González, who were tried alongside Leopoldo López, were also found guilty but will spend their sentences outside of prison.
Venezuela’s failure to effectively investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of 43 people and the injury and torture of hundreds during protests in 2014, is effectively giving a green light to more abuses and violence, said Amnesty International in a new report today.
The faces of impunity: A year after the protests, victims still await justice examines the stories of those who died or were arbitrarily arrested and tortured in detention during and after the protests that rocked the country between February and July 2014. Amongst the dead and injured were protesters, passers-by and members of the security forces. Some are still behind bars pending trial.
“People in Venezuela should be able to peacefully protest without fear of losing their lives or being unlawfully detained,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“Every day that passes without addressing the catalogue of human rights abuses that took place during the protests is another day of heart-breaking injustice for the victims and their families. This must stop.”