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John Álvarez and a bursting political crisis

John Álvarez, missing student, detained and tortured since August 30. Public image.

Since previous editions we have been monitoring the worsening of the political crisis in Venezuela. We identified a turning point in the logic of persecution for political reasons related to continuous closures of civic space, and the growth of electoral authoritarianism at the dawn of a presidential election called for 2024.

During the first week of September, the patterns of repression are consolidated. Since August 30, the student from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, John Álvarez Peña, was subjected to enforced disappearance until the afternoon of August 31, when the family learned of his arrest and visited him at the Police Bolivarian National headquarters in Los Chaguaramos, in Caracas. The following day he was brought before a court with jurisdiction over terrorism, allegedly for posting flyers on the street, but the hearing was postponed to September 4, the date on which the court confirmed his deprivation of liberty for the alleged crimes of “conspiracy” and “criminal association”. According to his defense lawyer, the young man was tortured with drastic methods and forced to incriminate a union leader and a journalist in a video recorded by police officers. John would be linked to the case of the six union leaders sentenced to 16 years in prison last August.

Following the policy of repression that extends to the student body, it was known that a lawyer linked to the Maduro government filed a complaint before the Public Ministry to censor the film “Simón” requesting that it not be shown in commercial movie theaters in the country. Despite the fact that the film was awarded at the Mérida State Film Festival, the government seeks to prevent Venezuelans from learning about or recalling the history of the 2017 student repression and its aftermath for thousands of people who had to flee the territory. Nowadays the political persecution against the Venezuelan student body is revived in a particular way with the arbitrariness against John Álvarez Peña.

On August 29, Amnesty International published the report “Life Detained“, which highlighted the continued use of arbitrary detentions as a method of widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population and that could constitute crimes against humanity. According to numbers extracted from organizations, between 2014 and 2023 there have been around 15,700 arbitrary arrests and around 300 people remain in detention for political reasons. The organization compiles nine emblematic cases that develop repressive patterns, as represented by the cases of Javier Tarazona, Guillermo Zárraga, Roland Carreño, Gabriel Blanco, Emirlendris Benítez, María Auxiliadora Delgado and Juan Carlos Marrufo, Darío Estrada and Robert Franco.

Furthermore, the report reveals the most recent patterns of persecution against the population encompassing the use of ambiguous crimes with a terrorist approach, which includes courts with jurisdiction over terrorism, the preferential application of the crime of “criminal association” without evidence and with the purpose of imposing pre-trial detentions, convictions with the maximum penalty provided for in the legal system (30 years), and the practice of enforced disappearance in the first moments of the arbitrary detention.

Given the panorama of July, August and early September, it is undeniable that in Venezuela the political crisis is at an alarming rate and the electoral context rises the levels of risk not only for politicians, social leaders, journalists, students or defenders, but also for all people engaging in public life with some activity that can make the Maduro government uncomfortable in its attempts to strengthen its arbitrary power and “relegitimize” itself through violence means. The configuration of a more serious stage of control and repression over civil society must be followed by an adequate and proportionate response.

AlertaVenezuela joins the call of numerous Venezuelan organizations and the Universidad Central de Venezuela demanding the full and immediate release of the student John Álvarez and the respect for his human rights, and at the same time calls on the international community to move towards a strategy agreed with civil society for the protection of the population and the holding of democratic elections, as required by the constitution.