Thursday, July 24, 2014

Show trial underway in Venezuela: Leopoldo López and Venezuelan Students targeted

"I'd rather explain to my children why I am a prisoner, than to explain to them why they have NO COUNTRY." - Leopoldo López Mendoza on June 2, 2014

Free Leopoldo and Free the Students

Merriam-Webster has two definitions for a show trial
: a trial in a court of law in which the verdict has been decided in advance.
: a trial (as of political opponents) in which the verdict is rigged and a public confession is often extracted 

Opposition leader Leopoldo López and four students:  Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Demian Martín, and Ángel González are being subjected to a political show trial. The verdict has been decided in advance and can only be altered by political considerations due to changing circumstances that impact the executive branch. Judicial independence and the rule of law are non-existent in Venezuela. This "trial" is an exercise in power politics and public relations.

However in this rigged trial a confession has not been extracted. At the end of the hearing today Leopoldo López reiterated that he did not have confidence in the judiciary and that he "is kidnapped" and petitioned for the students to be freed. Leopoldo went on to say "It is a political trial because on at least 16 occasions Maduro threatened me that I had to go to prison and February 12 was only an excuse."

Marco Coello, 18 year old college student jailed since February 12, 2014
 The show trial began today, July 23, 2014, and Marco Coello an 18 year old undergraduate student detained since February 12, 2014 who should never have been arrested was granted a conditional release today. He must return to face trial with Leopoldo Lopez and three other students on August 6 when the trial reconvenes. For example Christian Holdack, a 34 year old computer technician and design student has also been jailed since February 12, 2014 and was not granted conditional release and is a prisoner of conscience.

Christian Holdack, a 34 year old design student jailed since February 12, 2014
 Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas division for New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has produced reports on Venezuela's judicial system told the Wall Street Journal:
"It's hard to imagine how Lopez could possibly get a fair trial from a justice system that lacks any real independence. After keeping him locked up for months without providing credible evidence to justify his detention, the judiciary is now refusing to let his attorneys present evidence in his defense."
The obvious question that arises: What would happen to the presiding judge,  Judge Susana Barrientos, in this case if she exercised judicial independence and tried the case fairly? 
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni jailed on December 10, 2009
The case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni provides a chilling answer for members of the judiciary. Judge Afiuni ruled that a near three year pretrial detention ran afoul of the two year limit prescribed in Venezuelan law and authorized the conditional liberty of Eligio Cedeño, a banker accused of corruption on December 10, 2009.  The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions had already declared Cedeño's detention arbitrary. The judge was detained that same day, ironically on human rights day, and jailed. 
Prisoner of conscience: Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.
 The next day President Hugo Chávez called the Judge a "bandit"who should be imprisoned for thirty years. Days later Chávez reaffirmed that Judge Afiuni was "correctly jailed" and advocated that she be sentenced to 35 years in prison. She was charged by prosecutors in January of 2010 with "corruption, abuse of authority, and “favoring evasion of justice.” Prosecutors provided no credible evidence to substantiate the charges." She was held for over a year in prison during which "Judge Afiuni was raped and suffered physical and psychological violence, including death threats from other inmates." She was then transferred to house arrest. In June of 2013, Judge Afiuni was released on bail, while her trial, which began in 2012, continues. 

Free the Caracas Six: Unjustly deprived of their freedom
 The bottom line is that judges will do as they are told or will suffer grave consequences if they choose to follow the law. Whatever small vestiges of judicial independence there were in Venezuela died with the imprisonment and rape of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.  To save Leopoldo López Mendoza,Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Demian Martín, Ángel González and the scores of other prisoners of conscience in Venezuela will necessitate national and international campaigns on their behalf to shift the political calculations of the regime in Venezuela. Despite the loud claims of the Maduro regime, the present government in Venezuela is not a democracy. Leopoldo López Mendoza at his June 2, 2014 hearing: "Only in dictatorship is it a crime to say there is insecurity, shortages and thousands of reasons to protest."

Sairam Rivas is a 20 year old college student at UCV jailed since May 8, 2014
Only in a dictatorship are the murderers of nonviolent student demonstrators allowed to walk free and nonviolent protesters jailed for six months and counting. On March 23, 2014 Adriana Urquiola was shot twice and killed. She was 5 months pregnant. Three months later and her killer remains free. Seven of the eight accused of murdering Bassil da Costa on February 12, 2014 will be judged in freedom.

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