Venezuela Again the Target of Human Rights Accusations
Venezuela has become the target once again of accusations regarding supposed human rights violations after the UN Human Rights Commission published a decision in the case of Eligio Cedeño last week, and new allegations of rape were made in the case of Maria Lourdes Afiuni.
In the case of Venezuelan businessman and banker Eligio Cedeño, the United Nations Human Rights Commission published a decision last week accusing the Venezuelan government of violating Cedeño’s human rights when he was detained without trial from 2007 to 2009.
Cedeño was arrested in 2007 after the Venezuelan Attorney General accused him of conducting illegal currency transactions that allegedly led to the theft of more than US$ 25 million from Venezuela’s central bank.
Cedeño has claimed that he is a victim of government persecution, and that he was imprisoned for his support of political opponents of the Chavez government, however it has been pointed out that Cedeño was not politically active, nor a well-known opponent of the government at the time of his arrest.
“How can it be that every time [the government] tries to apply justice those being processed are suddenly called political prisoners?” one state official asked recently.
Venezuela held Cedeño in custody during the nearly three-year investigation and trial, citing the concern that he would flee the country if released. That concern seemed to be confirmed when Cedeño fled to the United States after being released on parole in 2009.
The Human Rights Commission, however, criticized the Venezuelan government for having kept Cedeño detained for longer than the two years stipulated by Venezuelan law.
Venezuela’s Attorney General’s office has argued that it had been granted a 16-month extension by the Venezuelan Appeals Court, a measure that is permitted by law, and that the trial had taken longer than normal due to various legal mechanisms employed by the defense attorneys.
Cedeño remains in the United States, where Venezuela’s extradition requests have been denied. No official response from the Venezuelan government has been offered on the Commission’s decision.
Alleged rape of Maria Lourdes Afiuni
The related case of the ex-judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni also took a new turn this week when she alleged that she had been sexually assaulted during her imprisonment at a women’s prison in 2010.
The allegation was revealed in a recently published book on the Afiuni case by Venezuelan journalist Francisco Olivares, along with several other charges of mistreatment alleged by the ex-judge.
Afiuni was arrested in 2009 after she was accused of facilitating the release and flight of Cedeño, allowing him to escape to the United States.
Prison authorities have said the recent rape allegations are false, and pointed to the fact that they come nearly two years after Afiuni was released from prison on house arrest due to health concerns.
“Why would she wait two years to say that she had been raped?” said Isabel González, ex-director of the women’s prison where Afiuni was held.
“In this book [Afiuni] says that she was a victim of mistreatment and rape during her stay at [the women’s prison], but all of those accusations are false. They are very serious statements that harm our dignity and create a lot of worry and unrest among the prisoners and their families,” González said.
Government officials assure no such accusations were ever made by Afiuni during her time in the prison, and fellow prisoners at the women’s prison have also expressed doubt that the allegations could be true.
However, officials have said the government will carry out an investigation into the case, and could potentially present Afiuni with defamation charges.
“We have to be clear that we are talking about Eligio Cedeño and [Maria Lourdes] Afiuni,” said Laila Tajeldine from the Ministry of Prison Services. “He is a white-collar criminal, and she is the woman that helped him get off free and escape. And now they call them political prisoners?” she asked rhetorically.
Opposition lawmakers are reportedly preparing a list of supposed “political prisoners” to be presented to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in hopes that the government would grant them amnesty, and allow those living in exile to return to the country.
President Chavez has long maintained that there are no political prisoners in Venezuela, but has showed openness to dialogue with his adversaries after his reelection last month.
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