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viernes, 21 de febrero de 2014

HRF Declara a Leopoldo López Prisionero de Conciencia y Llama a su Inmediata Liberación #Venezuela

Barcelona/ Mambí en A/ Yesterday the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) declared Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López a prisoner of conscience of President Nicolás Maduro’s government. HRF also joined the many high-profile figures and international organizations in calling for his immediate release. López was arrested last Tuesday in Caracas as he was leading a peaceful march towards the Ministry of Internal Relations, Justice, and Peace. Early yesterday morning a court ruled that López will remain under pre-trial detention in the Ramo Verde prison in Los Teques, Miranda, as criminal proceedings against him continue.

“With López’s imprisonment and the brutally repressive tactics that police, armed forces, and paramilitary groups are using against his supporters, the Venezuelan state has lost any democratic façade it may have had,” said Garry Kasparov, chairman of HRF. “López’s supporters are the more than seven million people who voted for Capriles last April and that make up, according to official data from the chavista electoral council itself, 49.12% of voters in Venezuela. Maduro must understand that he cannot simply erase all of the opposition in the national assembly with the stroke of a pen and expect no complaints. And once they complain, he cannot simply call them fascists and shoot them down. Either Maduro releases López and calls for an honest dialogue with all of the opposition, or he must step down for the sake of all Venezuelans: both those who support chavismo and those who do not. Venezuela does not need an executioner willing to kill half of the country. Venezuela needs a president,” added Kasparov.

HRF declared López a prisoner of conscience after analyzing all pieces of evidence presented against him so far. HRF determined that López was persecuted, arrested, and imprisoned exclusively for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of speech, and that his actions to rally his followers under the slogan “the street is the way out” (“la calle es la salida”) constitute protected speech under international human rights law. In the past, HRF has also declared judge María Lourdes Afiuni and union leader Rubén González as prisoners of conscience of the Venezuelan government.

Yesterday morning Supervisory Judge No. 16 of Caracas, Ralenis Tovar Guillén, issued a pre-trial detention order against López. The order came after public prosecutor Franklin Nieves formally charged López with the crimes of “arson of a public building” and “damages to public property,” as well as “instigation to commit a crime” and the “crime of associating for organized crime,” the latter set forth by the Organic Law against Organized Crime and Funding of Terrorism, which imposes a prison term of six to ten years. López’s arraignment hearing took place Wednesday night inside a military bus parked outside of the prison to which he was taken under heavy military custody three days ago as a suspected “terrorist” and “murderer.”

“Terms like ‘kangaroo court’ or ‘sham trial’ do not even begin to describe what is happening to López. An American teenager whose knowledge of the legal system amounts to a couple of Law & Order episodes would find the charges brought against him absurd,” said Javier El-Hage, legal director of HRF. “In a democracy, when a political leader simply rallies his supporters to protest peacefully in the streets of his country, it’s possible he might commit a minor offense at most if he protests without the proper permit or disrupts traffic. What he cannot possibly commit, though, are the crimes of ‘arson of a public building,’ ‘damages to public property,’ and ‘associating for organized crime,’ because these require criminal intent. As to the first two charges, there isn’t a single piece of evidence that López burned or destroyed public property. As to the third charge, the prosecutor is arguing that Voluntad Popular and Mesa de la Unidad, which are in fact political organizations created to compete in a democratic system, are instead two bands of thugs created for the purpose of vandalizing and burning down public buildings,” said El-Hage.

According to Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Venezuela on May 10, 1978, the right to freedom of expression can only be restricted in exceptional circumstances, such as cases of advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.

“The only action for which the prosecution might have had reasonable grounds to demand López’s arrest was the offense of ‘instigation to commit a crime’—but any closer examination would have revealed the absence of evidence supporting an arrest warrant, let alone a formal charge that López ‘advocated’ for violence or lawless action,” explained El-Hage. “International human rights law protects actions like López’s precisely in order to prevent authoritarian rulers from arbitrarily jailing their opponents under vague or overbroad ‘incitement’ charges. Authoritarians love this modus operandi. In 2009, the Chinese dictatorship jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ after he wrote a democracy manifesto, while in 2012 Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime convicted the leader of the democratic opposition, Vladimir Kozlov, of ‘inciting social hatred.’ Kozlov, whose case is very similar to that of López’s, was also convicted for ‘creating and managing an organized criminal group,’ which is the label the regime gave to Kozlov’s political party, in a move very similar to the one Venezuela is pursuing against López’s party, Voluntad Popular. One thing is for sure—López wouldn’t be in jail if Venezuela were a democratic nation.”

Under the Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) case in the United States, only speech or conduct that expressly advocates “imminent lawless” action and is “likely to incite or produce that action” may be restricted in compliance with the Constitution’s First Amendment. Similarly, under international law, a state must demonstrate in specific and individualized fashion the precise nature of the threat, and the necessity and proportionality of the specific action taken, in particular by establishing a “direct and immediate connection” between the speech and the threat.

“López called on millions of people to peacefully take to the streets of Venezuela to protest against crime, the shortage of basic goods, the virtual exclusion of half of the country in congress, and to call for the resignation of President Maduro. His actions had no immediate or direct connection with the threat of violence nor with the vandalizing acts,” said El-Hage. “The instigators of violence in the streets of Venezuela were government officials, such as President Maduro, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and Foreign Relations Minister Elías Jaua, who responded to the peaceful demonstrations by labeling López, Machado, Ledezma, and Capriles, the legitimate representatives of half of Venezuela, as ‘fascists,’ ‘nazis,’ ‘terrorists,’ and ‘murderers.’ Furthermore, judging from the YouTube videos coming out of Venezuela in the face of a government-imposed media blackout, the source of the ongoing street violence is not college students holding pro-democracy signs or even barricading the streets, but rather the police, the armed forces, and the chavista paramilitary ‘colectivos’ responding to these kids with terror tactics and bullets,” concluded El-Hage.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

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