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Political repression against civil society organizations in Venezuela intensifies

Rocio San Miguel, human rights defender, who remains in forced disappearance.

Maduro’s pre-electoral repression attacks continue and are escalating. On January 18, the government had ordered the activation of the “Bolivarian Fury” plan, which included at least 36 detained civilians and soldiers, 22 arrest warrants against human rights activists, journalists, and other members of civil society, as well as party headquarters, human rights organizations and media outlets attacked as a sign of intimidation. We warned that political persecution and other crimes against humanity not only going on in Venezuela but are intensifying in the current electoral context while using different repressive strategies to break civil society.

To the January attacks against Maria Corina Machado and her team, Professor Victor Venegas, former PDVSA worker Carlos Salazar Larez and others, is added the enforced disappearance of human rights defender Rocío San Miguel and her daughter. Both were intercepted on February 9 at the Maiquetía International Airport in the state of La Guaira, by intelligence agents and, despite being recognized by the attorney general as detained, the State has not reported their whereabouts, nor have they been presented before a court yet. The whereabouts of four other members of her family are also unknown. Rocio San Miguel is a victim of discrimination, harassment and political retaliation for having signed a referendum against Hugo Chávez almost 20 years ago, as recognized by a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Curiously, on February 1, 2024, the defender stated that the Inter-American Court had requested the State to report compliance with the sentence in her case, granting it a period of 6 months.

The crime of enforced disappearance has been extended by the Venezuelan dictatorship. A report from the Human Rights Center of the Andrés Bello Catholic University and Espacio Público, in collaboration with the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas, records cases between 2014 and 2018 identifying patterns in security agencies, such as denying the whereabouts of the person for hours, days or even weeks, as well as preventing communication with lawyers and relatives, avoiding verifying the location, state and conditions of the detained people despite official or unofficial indications of their place of confinement. Only on January 23, three regional leaders of the Vente party (led by María Corina Machado) were arrested and remain missing to this day. Such patterns have been characterized in the reports of the Fact-Establishment Mission and also denounced by the High Commissioner for Human Rights as a tool of political repression against the exercise of human rights of the victims.

The forced disappearance of Rocio San Miguel, her daughter and other members of her family present new variants. Unlike older cases, now the attorney general participates directly in the perpetration of enforced disappearances by reporting through a message from his official account “X”, formerly Twitter, that a person has been detained by the State, but without revealing his whereabouts. Indeed, after 50 hours without receiving any news from her, Saab pointed out that the defender was detained “by virtue of an arrest warrant against her for allegedly being linked and referenced in the conspiracy and attempted assassination plot called ‘White Bracelet’, whose objective was to attack the life of the Head of State Nicolas Maduro (…)”. Despite claiming to have information, the attorney general refrains from reporting her whereabouts, making him directly responsible for the crime of enforced disappearance.

Another recent arbitrariness confessed by Saab is that he directs – and thus validates – the irregular interrogations – generally carried out at dawn in a police or military headquarters, without the presence of lawyers and express powers to interrogate and probably with acts of torture prior to the statement – under the guise that he would oversee the investigation of the alleged assassination plans against Maduro. This is the most eloquent example of the seriousness of human rights violations and the consolidation of impunity in Venezuela.

It should be noted that on January 26, the attorney general had revealed in a press conference the number of 36 people detained in the “White Bracelet” case and 22 arrest warrants. These actions are carried out by a prosecutor who was appointed by an illegitimate national constituent assembly in 2017 and who, committing a usurpation of office that has lasted for 7 years, would now be adapting the criminal action to punish the crimes against humanity investigated by the International Criminal Court. Nothing further from reality. There is a criminal justice system that has been dedicated to perpetuating abuses and protecting government officials while they are in power and one of the fundamental pieces to meet these objectives of impunity is the attorney general of the republic in office.

These attacks against critical voices are part of the progressive closure of civic space in the country following the latest offensive launched by the government through the anti-society law. The bill, combined with incendiary rhetoric from the highest levels of power, creates a breeding ground that is generating serious effects against civil society on the eve of a presidential election. The State continues its purpose of undermining civic space and ratifies its manifest unwillingness to comply with the Rome Statute and its international human rights obligations by increasingly refusing public scrutiny.

Given these latest events, AlertaVenezuela joins the call for the full and immediate release of Rocio San Miguel, her daughter and all political prisoners and urges the international community to adopt in a coordinated and decisive manner all necessary measures to demand compliance with the agenda of Barbados and protect Venezuelan civil society, which has been in a situation of greater vulnerability since the beginning of 2024.

Breaking news

At the close of this issue, through a tweet from the general prosecutor, it was learned that on Monday, February 12, after 8:00 pm, Rocío San Miguel and five family members were presented to the second court against terrorism, where the public ministry requested a measure. deprivation of liberty against Rocío San Miguel for the crimes of treason, conspiracy, terrorism, and association to commit a crime, “among others.”

At the same hearing, a measure of deprivation of liberty was requested against Alejandro González, San Miguel’s former partner, and a measure of periodic appearance before the court for four other relatives, without detailing their names, whereabouts, or the charges against them.

The hearing took place without the presence of her lawyers, so it is presumed that public defense was imposed. She didn’t have time to prepare her defense either. Even so, Saab stated that everything was done “in strict accordance with national and international regulations.”

A secret presentation hearing plagued by procedural irregularities is not enough to disprove a situation of forced disappearance. On the contrary, it should be understood as an extension of the disappearance itself. It is the presence of trusted lawyers and/or family members at the presentation hearing that makes it possible to verify that a person was actually brought to justice and put an end to the disappearance. A tweet from a prosecutor who has been manipulating the process at will is not enough. Otherwise, it would be very easy for the State to separate itself from the crime of disappearance through a summary trial, like the one it has been carrying out.

As long as the whereabouts of the victims are not known, the disappearance continues.