Whatever Happened to Detained Student Protesters in Venezuela?

El campamento del PNUD, ubicado al este de Caracas, fue uno de los 18  instalado en todo el país para  mantener la protesta en la calle. (Sendai Zea)
In East Caracas, signs of protest still line the street. (PanAm Post)

EspañolIn early 2014, opposition leader Leopoldo López and Venezuelan students launched a series of protests against the Nicolás Maduro government. “La Salida,” as the protests came to be called, has left 43 people dead, hundreds more injured, and thousands in police custody.

According to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, at least 3,370 people have been arrested during protests in Venezuela this year.

Nizar El Fakih, an attorney and member of the Center for Human Rights at Andrés Bello Catholic University — an NGO assisting with the legal defense of protesters — says 2014 has not only seen a record number of protests, but records levels of state repression as well.

The recent decision to drop all charges for more than 200 protesters tells El Fakih that these students “never should have been arrested.”

However, dozens of protesters remain in custody, and Nizar El Fakih addressed this issue when he spoke to the PanAm Post.

How many protesters still face criminal charges?

Currently, there are 1,800 people with open criminal cases, with more than 70 still in custody. The rest have been released on probation. They are prohibited from leaving the country, and they cannot participate in further protests, among others stipulations. These people live under the constant threat of being incarcerated in the future.

Since protests began on February 4, NGO’s have reported over 3,300 arrests.

On June 14, the Public Ministry reported 3,306 people had been detained and had initiated their judicial proceedings.

What crimes are the protesters being charged with?

Public incitement, which is instigating others to commit a crime, obstruction of a public roadway, and criminal association or conspiracy. Generally, sentences for these crimes range from three to 10 years in prison.

However, according to the Venezuelan Penal Code, in order to be convicted of obstruction of a public roadway one must intend to commit a crime, not to participate in a protest. This is guaranteed in our constitution.

On the other hand, “criminal association” is part of the Organic Law Against Organized Crime and Terrorist Financing, which is intended to punish major drug cartels, smuggles, and terrorist groups. But this charge is being filed against students and youth protesters who were exercising their rights.

What irregularities have occurred in the detention process?

First, there have been violations of personal freedom. Protesters were detained without a warrant. According to Venezuelan law, police need a warrant to make an arrest, unless the accused is caught in the act.

There have also been violations of due process and the right to protest. The protesters were not told which jails they would be transferred to, what crimes they were being charge with, nor were they allowed to make a phone call.

Under these circumstances, detainees find themselves in a vulnerable position, where their human rights could be violated.

We have had cases where people have been locked in a room with tear gas, a case where someone was shot in the testicles, beatings, among others.

So far, 87 cases of alleged human rights violations are currently being investigated by the government. The majority of these are cases of cruelty, and two cases of torture, to get a confession. Government officials have been the perpetrators in every case.

Is there precedent for this situation in recent Venezuelan history?

There is no precedent from the last 15 years; nor is there anything that resembles the current level of state repression.

An investigation conducted by various Venezuelan NGO’s, titled “Venezuela 2014: Protests and Human Rights,” reports more than 6,000 protests have occurred thus far in 2014, which have resulted in 43 civilian deaths, 204 attacks in residential areas, 51 attacks at universities, and 400 violations of freedom of expression.

What has been the role of NGO’s with all the violence and repression that has occurred in Venezuela?

In a country where official data is not revealed on time, the work of organizations like the Catholic University Center of Human Rights is fundamental, not only in protecting the victims, but also in assisting the state with providing timely information regarding human rights violations occurring during and after the protests.

Venezuela has gone through seven months of protests for diverse causes, including student arrests, rampant crime, trade disputes, inflation over 60 percent, and the shortage of basic goods.

Breakdown of Detained Protesters

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