Friday, May 29, 2015

Regional human rights body expresses concerns about treatment of Venezuelan prisoners of conscience

Prisoners of conscience on hunger strike Leopoldo Lopez and Daniel Ceballos

IACHR Expresses Concern over Measures Taken against Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos in Venezuela


May 29, 2015

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over measures that have been taken in recent days with regard to Daniel Ceballos and Leopoldo López, who are deprived of their liberty in Venezuela. They are beneficiaries of Precautionary Measure 335/14, granted by the IACHR on April 20, 2015.
According to publicly available information Daniel Ceballos was transferred in the early morning hours of May 23, 2015, from the “Ramo Verde” National Center for Military Defendants (CENAPROMIL) to a regular prison located in San Juan de los Morros, about 150 kilometers from Caracas. Tarek William Saab, the People’s Ombudsman, indicated that his office had access to a court order for the transfer; however, Daniel Ceballos’ wife and his attorneys indicated that neither his defense team nor his family had been notified of the transfer or of the reasons for it, nor did they have access to see the alleged court order. Several days earlier, on May 18, 2015, the authorities at the Ramo Verde military prison had issued a disciplinary action against Daniel Ceballos—which consisted of “confinement to an isolation cell for up to 15 days, though this does not mean completely incommunicado”—because he had given a telephone interview to a radio station on May 15, 2015.
The Inter-American Commission expresses its deep concern over the failure to comply with Precautionary Measure 335/14, by which the IACHR asked the State of Venezuela to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the life and humane treatment of Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos; ensure that their detention conditions are brought into line with applicable international standards; and reach agreement with the beneficiaries and their representatives on the measures to be adopted. The State of Venezuela has the obligation to guarantee the life, humane treatment, and safety of everyone deprived of liberty, as well as to ensure detention conditions that meet international standards in this area. Moreover, the State must guarantee access to any medical attention that may be necessary as a result of the hunger strike which—according to information provided by their family members—Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos have begun. These measures should, as always, be adopted with the agreement of López and Ceballos.

In regards to the disciplinary action against Daniel Ceballos as a result of having done a telephonic interview with a radio station, the IACHR highlights that the right to speak, that is, to express one’s thoughts, ideas, information or opinions orally, is a basic right and one of the pillars of freedom of expression. A violation of an individual’s right to free expression constitutes, at the same time, a violation of the public’s right to obtain information, ideas, and opinions.

In August 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that the detentions of Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos were arbitrary, and recommended that the government of Venezuela order their immediate release. Leopoldo López, a leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, has been imprisoned since February 2014, accused of public incitement and criminal conspiracy, in connection with the protest demonstrations that took place that month in Venezuela. For his part, Daniel Ceballos, another leader of the same opposition party and a former Mayor of San Cristóbal, was arrested in March 2014 and sentenced to 12 months in prison for contempt, for failing to obey an order by the Supreme Court to prevent the placement of barricades during the protests. After he had served the 12 months, the Supreme Court said that he would remain in prison, now in pretrial custody, during the criminal proceedings for rebellion and criminal conspiracy.

The Inter-American Commission also expresses its profound concern over the complaints it has received regarding the alleged lack of guarantees to ensure due process in the investigations and prosecutions of these two individuals. The Commission also emphasizes that pretrial detention must be the exception, not the rule, and must be applied only with the aim protecting the proper goal of the procedures, namely where the person presents a flight risk or to prevent the obstruction of the investigations. In that regard, the Commission has stressed that the presumption of innocence can be considered to have been violated when a person facing criminal charges is subject to pretrial detention without proper justification, as in that case the detention becomes a punitive rather than precautionary measure, which is tantamount to anticipating a sentence. Moreover, pretrial detention should be used in accordance with the criteria of necessity and proportionality, and for a reasonable period of time.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.
Precautionary Measure 335/14 (in Spanish)

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