IAPL: Venezuela: judiciary as weapon for political prosecution

The Rule of Law Index 2022 was released at the end of October. In the very last place, number 140: Venezuela. The well-known human rights lawyer Alfredo Romero explains why.

“It may sound unbelievable, but in Venezuela you can hear judges say: I can’t make this decision yet, because I haven’t received any orders from above.”

Alfredo Romero tells this in a Zoom conversation from Caracas. He is chairman of Foro Penal, an organization of 5,000 volunteers and 500 lawyers who assist political prisoners in Venezuela. Romero continues: “It is not that the system in Venezuela is inefficient, as in some other countries that are low on the 2022 Rule of Law Index. The judiciary is a facade here, a weapon for political persecution and corruption.’

Since Romero founded the predecessor of Foro Penal twenty years ago, the situation has gotten worse every year, according to him. ‘In the beginning judges were afraid, but they still had a certain degree of independence. Now they are appointed completely outside the legal process and are part of the system to keep the government in power. Judges are sometimes even present when people are being tortured.’

In such a system, the lawyers of Foro Penal can achieve little for their clients – whom they assist pro bono – with a usual lawyer approach. ‘Nevertheless, it is very important that we represent them in court. That way we stay in contact with them and we can collect evidence why they are accused, that there are political reasons behind it. We use this information to take action and enter into discussions with UNHCR and other organisations. The aim is for the regime to pay the highest possible price for detaining political opponents.’

Over the past twenty years, Foro Penal has assisted some 12,000 prisoners; at the moment there are 277. Romero: ‘There is a revolving door effect: the government releases people to show a favourable picture, and immediately arrests others. A new category are the foreign “hostages”. Recently a few Americans were detained in order to exchange them for cousins of President Maduro, who were detained in the US for drug smuggling.’

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Venezuela: judiciary as weapon for political prosecution