Alleged cases of arbitrary detention meted out as exemplary sanctions for voicing opinions, reporting news, exercising legitimate rights, and even for raising one’s voice over Twitter, are a scathing indictment of the times we live in.
VENEZUELA NEWS (El Universal) — In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela a doctor must answer charges for the “crime” of reporting the death of a group of patients, a lawyer was arrested while assisting a client in legal proceedings, and so on and so forth… In addition to political prisoners and prosecuted students, the State is investigating, prosecuting, and punishing scores of individuals for the crime of exercising their legitimate rights, including their right to free speech.
On September 11, Dr. Ángel Sarmiento, the president of the Medical Association of Aragua state (central north Venezuela) reported the sudden death of eight patients, four adults and four children, at the Maracay’s Central Hospital, caused by an “acute hemorrhagic fever syndrome that leads to a fatal deterioration of health within 72 hours.”
Aragua governor Tareck El Aissami not only denied medical reports of the disease, but called on the Attorney General’s office to investigate Sarmiento. A few days later the state’s Legislative Council passed a motion to question Dr. Sarmiento, and the Caracas-based National Assembly drew up a covenant “condemning the criminal campaign launched by the opposition to spread anxiety and terror amongst the Venezuelan population.”
The business leader
The president of the National Industrial Council (Conindustria) was detained and interrogated for more than 12 hours by Venezuela’s secret police (Sebin) with no explanation. President Nicolás Maduro later said that the business leader must be brought to justice for saying that the chikungunya virus has seriously affected productivity levels in the country.
“He told a bunch of elaborate lies, like the chikungunya virus has already affected 50% of the country, and that he could offer evidence to back up his allegation that in some companies productivity levels have dropped because 50 out of 200 workers are down with the virus,” Maduro said. “These are very sensitive matters and, like in any country of the world, only the medical authorities are competent by law to make statements on such matters.”
The Pemon chief
Alexis Romero, a noted Pemon Indigenous chief, was arrested in 2012, along with another three Pemon leaders, in the context of the disarming and tying of 19members of the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB), who were caught by members of 13 different Indian communities in the act of illegally mining gold in the Alto Paragua region, Bolívar state (South).
Despite being a civilian, Romero was brought before a military court that ordered detaining him in the La Pica prison in Monagas state (northeastern Venezuela), where he spent less than a week. Without having been sentenced, he was granted a “presidential pardon.” He was imposed a precautionary measure substituting liberty with 15-day periodic reporting to the military court in Ciudad Bolívar, 800 km away from his home in Taurepán, near the Brazilian border.
On September 13, the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps (Cicpc) of Aragua state charged electrical engineer Guillermo López Inciarte, an employee of state-run electricity company Corpoelec, with sabotage, saying he was a member of a gang known as the “The Electric Current Illegals,” in the business of sabotaging power grid across the Santiago Mariño and Girardot municipalities. According to the police, López and two other individuals knocked out power across several sectors and then charged customers for restoring supply.
López was booked as a criminal offender. His photo in handcuffs was front page news. But according to Corpoelec-Aragua union leader José Luis Criollo, López and coworker Marcos Hernández had performed a planned power outage, a standard procedure requested by a costumer through official channels. “We, the workers, are really worried. We view this as an attempt on the authorities to conceal their inefficiency,” he said.
Lawyer Marcelo Crovato was detained on April 22 after assisting two clients in connection with a raid in the Chacao municipality.
That day he showed up at the Cicpc investigative police headquarters to assist defendants Ignacio Porras and Marling Márquez, but he ended up arrested. A judicial inquiry was opened and charges of inciting crime, causing public obstruction, and possession of fire-producing devices were leveled against him based on anonymous witness accounts.
Two alleged “cooperating patriots” accused Crovato, a member of the Foro Penal Venezolano association of human rights lawyers, of inciting street protests.
Crovato has been locked up for five months in the Yare prison, despite the fact that his defense attorney has filed a request seeking a humanitarian measure on the grounds that he has suffered from skin cancer for the last nine years. “We are witnessing lawyers’ arrests like never before in this country,” said Foro Penal’s coordinator Alfredo Romero.
The human rights activist
Front Line Defenders has voiced concerns since 2013 about a “defamation and intimidation campaign” allegedly launched by Minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace Miguel Rodríguez Torres against Humberto Prado Sifontes, a human rights activist and the Director of the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory. As recently as last February FLD rejected accusations leveled against Prado by the state minister.
On February 13, Minister Rodríguez said that street protests were planned at a meeting held in Mexico City in 2010, with Prado allegedly being charged with spreading chaos by sparking prison inmate riots. Prado admitted to have been in Mexico City, but in 2011, attending a meeting of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).
Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly, said on July 31 that he would seek legal action against newspaper El Nacional’s journalists Hernán Lugo-Galicia and Sofía Nederr for their coverage of the arrest and release from custody in Aruba of General Hugo Carvajal, prompting condemnation by the Venezuelan Journalists Association (CNP). “All the information contained in their journalistic work was corroborated by the sources, and checked against documentary evidence before publication,” said a communiqué released by the CNP.
Two months later, in a public broadcast Cabello mentioned Lugo-Galicia once again, as one in an alleged list of journalists who would be laid off in the following days. “I don’t understand his plan to harm me. Is he sending a message to my sources? Trying to keep me silent?” the journalist said on Twitter post.
Juan Manuel Mendoza, a professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela School of Architecture, was detained on May 14 along with student Carlos Borges while distributing leaflets to people in the Sabana Grande Boulevard.
That day human rights group PROVEA (Venezuelan Program for Education and Action on Human Rights) reported the incident, saying that the two men were carted off to Policaracas headquarters after being detained for distributing leaflets on high inflation rates. A few hours later they were released without charges, but restrictions on leaflets distribution have been imposed in states like Aragua, Anzoátegui and Zulia, and even in Caracas opposition strongholds like the Baruta municipality.
The foreign national
Portuguese national Ricardo Manuel Ferreira (56), the holder of a temporary works visa, was locked up in the Defense Ministry’s Fuerte Tiuna headquarters along with 40 people detained near Altamira Square (eastern Caracas) during one of the National Guard’s repressive raids.
Alfredo Romero, a lawyer for Foro Penal Venezolano, said that Ferreira, a foreign national who was not taking part in the protest and “didn’t even speak Spanish,” was simply trying to get home. State-owned station Venezolana de Televisión showed Ferreira among a group of detained foreigners allegedly “wanted for international terrorism.”
A day and half later, all those detained were released by a court of law, but only Ferreira and Italian photographer Francesca Commissari were freed without charges. The rest will face the trial against them under a presentation regime (conditional parole).
The social media user
On September 3, scientist Inés Margarita González (@inesitaterrible), a Maracaibo resident, took to twitter to report that she had been summoned by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin) for “inciting hatred.” The messages she posted on her account regarding her opinion on the murder of 27-year-old Socialist Party deputy Robert Serra, who was stabbed to death in his home on October 1, were deemed significant enough to charging her with “insulting public officials, acts of violence or threats, and inciting crime.” She has been incommunicado in Sebin headquarters since her arrest on October 8, despite the fact that she publicly admitted that she was wrong and apologized to Deputy Serra’s family. The charges against her are not liable to imprisonment, but she has since been locked up. At least six other people have been arrested over the contents of the messages published on their Twitter accounts.
Translated by Sancho Araujo