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New persecution of defenders from the logic of “terrorism”

Alonso Medina Roa, a member of the team of technical advisors to the opposition, advocates for the freedom of political prisoners — Photo Maru Morales P.

On August 24, 2022, three human rights defenders and lawyers, Ana Leonor Acosta, Kelvi Zambrano and Alonso Medina Roa, unofficially learned of a criminal investigation against them by the Antiterrorism Division of the Scientific and Criminal Investigations Corps. and Criminalistics (CICPC, in Spanish).

The way in which they learned about their alleged involvement in supposed crimes was as aggressive as surprising: they found out about this while detaining the defender Medina Roa at the Maiquetía International Airport, because of a “immigration alert”.

Medina Roa was preparing to leave the country for family reasons but ended up holding three and a half hours at the airport before being directed to the CICPC’s Antiterrorism Division. There he learned of a file and that the three lawyers were being investigated for statements made at a press conference on June 27 of that same year, in which the organization they are part of, the Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy, had presented a report with allegations of torture in clandestine detention centers in the country.

Through an urgent action addressed to the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, the lawyers warned of an act of “persecution and harassment against the citizen defender for his office as a human rights defender and activist (….) as well as of criminalization of lawyers who denounce torture in Venezuela”. In declarations to FM Center, Ana Acosta warned that “institutions with competence in terrorism are used to persecute human rights defenders.”

The Center for Defenders and Justice (CDJ, in Spanish) registered a total of 50 attacks on human rights organizations and defenders during July 2022, pointing out that this month “reflects the resurgence of the criminalization of the advocacy, promotion and demand for human rights”. In its monthly report, the organization indicated new arbitrary arrests and prosecution processes, highlighting the cases of union leaders Emilio Negrín and Gabriel Blanco, who face charges of criminal association, conspiracy and terrorism.

In its report for the first half of the year, the organization recorded 214 acts against human rights organizations and defenders, and “despite observing a decrease in the number of attacks [compared to the same period in 2021], it is stressed that the risks are maintained in a high level for the human rights movement.”

The Center for Justice and Peace (CEPAZ, in Spanish) added in its monitoring report for the first semester that “every 14 hours a person or organization is harassed or criminalized by the government of Nicolás Maduro,” which includes -until June 2022- a total of 15 criminalized civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

The public disqualification and prosecution of civil society for charges of terrorism and other crimes enshrined in the Organic Law against Organized Crime and Terrorist Financing, is a pattern documented in the first report of an Independent international fact-finding mission on Venezuela (hereinafter “the FFMV”). The use of this legislation, plagued by vague and broad crimes, is so arbitrary that, in July 2020, the former Minister of the Interior, Néstor Reverol, announced that Venezuelans who had left the country and returned would be charged with crimes of that law “for bringing Covid-19 to the country.”

The FFMV documented that, “while there were four specialized courts dealing with terrorism cases, a large number of cases were assigned to two particular judges within them, in particular Carol Padilla (Case 9: Juan Requesens, Julio Borges, Case 10: Fernando Alban and Case 11: Roberto Marrero) and Hilda Villanueva (Case 3: Gilber Caro, Víctor Ugas, Edgar Zambrano), from the First and Second Control Chambers with jurisdiction over terrorism crimes, respectively.” These courts were created by the Supreme Court (TSJ, in Spanish), without being contemplated in the legislation. In addition, the FFMV stated that “at least 20 other soldiers and former soldiers tried in civilian courts, [were] accused of one or more of the following crimes: treason, terrorism, possession of weapons of war, instigation of rebellion, and criminal association. ”.

Of the cases mentioned, the FFMV studied in detail more than 10 processes related to terrorism, and in all of them, it determined that human rights violations had been committed considering cruel treatments or tortures, arbitrary detentions, illegal confessions, procedural delays, obstructions to the due process, biased judges, among others. In other words, the legislation articulated with the practice of the anti-terrorist courts speaks of numerous cases in which there were and potentially will be various human rights violations for political reasons.

AlertaVenezuela reiterates its call upon the international community to fulfill its duty to promote and protect human rights in Venezuela, and particularly upon the Human Rights Council, which has in its hands one of the most immediate and important responsibilities in its history, as it is to ensure the renewal of the FFMV during its next session. Only the FFMV will be able to help to hold those responsible accountable for these cases and many other unrecorded cases.