Thursday, March 21, 2019

Judge Afiuni sentenced to five years in prison nearly 10 years after show trial that demonstrated the rule of law had died in Venezuela.

Judge Afiuni is innocent and was imprisoned for following the law and not the whims of a dictator.

Judge Afiuni jailed for exercising her judicial independence and respecting the rule of law.
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni was imprisoned on December 10, 2009 for doing her job. She observed the rule of law and followed both the laws of Venezuela and international law. This is why Hugo Chavez slandered, imprisoned and tortured her. Despite the horrors visited upon her she refused to be silent and continued to speak for human rights and the rule of law. This is why today in a mockery of justice she was condemned by a "judge" following the orders of Nicolas Maduro and his Cuban handlers to five years in prison.

It is important to remember what happened nearly a decade ago, and how this criminal regime attacked, imprisoned and terrorized this good and courageous judge.

Judge María Lourdes Afiuni ruled that a near three year pretrial detention of Eligio Cedeño, a banker accused of corruption, ran afoul of the two year limit prescribed in Venezuelan law and authorized his conditional liberty on December 10, 2009.  The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions had already declared Cedeño's detention arbitrary. 

The judge was detained the same day, ironically on human rights day, and jailed.

The next day President Hugo Chávez in an appearance before government officials, broadcast on national television and radio, he called Judge Afiuni a "bandit"who should be imprisoned for thirty years, "even if new legislation was required to achieve that result." He instructed the Attorney General and the President of the Supreme Court to punish Judge Afiuni as severely as possible to prevent similar actions by other judges.

Days later Chávez reaffirmed that Judge Afiuni was "correctly jailed" and advocated that she be sentenced to 35 years in prison. 

On December 16, 2009 decrying what they termed “a blow by President Hugo Chávez to the independence of judges and lawyers in the country,” three independent United Nations human rights experts "called for the immediate release of a Venezuelan judge arrested after ordering the conditional release of a prisoner held for almost three years without trial." The experts warned that “[r]eprisals for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed functions and creating a climate of fear among the judiciary and lawyers’ profession serve no purpose except to undermine the rule of law and obstruct justice.”   The UN experts also said that the "immediate and unconditional release of Judge Afiuni is imperative.” 

This did not happen. The Chavez regime doubled down and subjected her to a political show trial.

Judge María Lourdes Afiuni imprisoned 2009 - 2013
Judge Afiuni 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 2011 Noam Chomsky, a Chavez ally, lobbied for the Judge's release and criticized Hugo Chavez for having her arrested, but to no avail.

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian Judge Afiuni spoke plainly:  "There is no judicial independence. I'm here as the president's prisoner. I'm an example to other judges of what happens if you step out of line."  She was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and in February 2011, following cancer surgery, placed under house arrest.

Hugo Chavez died of cancer on March 5, 2013 and Judge Afiuni was released from house arrest on June 14, 2013. Foreign Policy, in a 2013 article, described the conditions set forth for her release from house arrest. 
"Even though she has never been tried or convicted for any offense, and in spite of the prosecutor’s lack of any evidence against her, she will have to appear in court every fifteen days. She is also banned from traveling abroad or speaking to the media."
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni was called to attend a sentencing hearing on March 20, 2019 and is still being harassed and threatened by the Maduro regime. This afternoon she was informed by her attorney that she had been sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Nearly a decade later it can be said that December 10, 2009 was the day the rule of law died in Venezuela. Since then judges and legal professionals know what the consequences are of exercising their constitutionally guaranteed functions and respecting the rule of law: being publicly slandered, imprisoned, and subjected to torture.
The Venezuelan Attorney General who slandered Judge Afiuni's good name and took part in her persecution fled into exile and denounced the Maduro regime in 2017.  A Venezuelan supreme court justice defected in January of 2019. They know what are the consequences of exercising independence of thought, much less action.

Please share the hashtags: #AfuiniIsInnocent and #AfiuniEsInocente over social media. Visibility and attention can offer her some protection from this cruel regime.

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