Jan. 17, 2013 | Press Releases

HRF Calls on Venezuelan Authorities to Release Judge Afiuni

Publishes Legal Report on Case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni

NEW YORK (January 17, 2012)—The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on Venezuelan authorities to immediately release Judge María Lourdes Afiuni both because she is wrongfully imprisoned and because her incarceration and house arrest have jointly exceeded the three-year maximum set forth under Article 230 of the Venezuelan Organic Criminal Procedure Code (VOCPC). HRF’s petition was published with a full legal report on her case, which concludes that Venezuela breached Articles 9, 10, 12, 14, and 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

HRF Calls on Venezuelan Authorities to Release Judge Afiuni

“Afuini’s is an open and shut case that exposes the despotic nature of the Chávez regime like few others,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Judge Afiuni has withstood years of vitriol by a subservient supreme court and scores of judges that fear something similar will happen to them if they dare to let her go,” said Halvorssen.

HRF’s legal report finds that Judge Afiuni was illegally arrested on December 10, 2009, just hours after she granted a detainee with measures alternative to pre-trial detention. Her ruling was a legitimate exercise of her functions, acting in accordance with the VOCPC and a decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Because her decision granted these measures to a citizen whom the executive branch particularly wished to keep imprisoned, the following day, on one of President Chávez’s nationwide broadcasts, he called Afiuni a “bandit,” requested the “maximum penalty [of] 30 years in prison” for her, and instructed Attorney General Luisa Ortega and Supreme Court Chief Justice Luisa Estella Morales to keep her in jail.

During her imprisonment at the women’s prison INOF, Judge Afiuni suffered death threats, assassination attempts, and harassment by other inmates, as well as various health complications that were not treated with due diligence by the Venezuelan authorities. Judge Afiuni has been under house arrest since February 2, 2011, and her legal counsel has made the claim that she was the victim of rape while in prison.

“The rape of a prisoner is a form of torture under international law. States have the obligation to diligently investigate any rape allegations and to prosecute and punish the perpetrators,” said Javier El-Hage, HRF’s international legal director. “Instead, Venezuelan authorities have responded dismissively and aggressively, claiming that Judge Afiuni is a liar, threatening to bring a slander lawsuit against her, and refusing to diligently investigate her allegations,” said El-Hage.

HRF’s legal report concludes that, with these actions, the State of Venezuela violated: (1) the right to personal liberty of Judge Afiuni; (2) the right to due process of law; (3) the right to human dignity of all persons deprived of liberty, including the right to health and medical attention, as well as the obligation to segregate the accused and convicted; (4) its obligation to diligently investigate allegations of rape made by Judge Afiuni and prosecute and punish the perpetrators; and (5) the guarantee of stability and tenure of judges.

On May 10, 1978, Venezuela ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Most recently, on September 10, 2012, Venezuela denounced the American Convention on Human Rights, in order to circumvent the jurisdiction of both the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The case of María Lourdes Afiuni is the eighth documented by HRF’s Caracas Nine campaign, a project aimed at raising international awareness about the cases of individuals who are the targets of harassment, judicial persecution, or imprisonment for expressing critical opinions or exercising human rights against the will of the Venezuelan government.

HRF protects and promotes human rights. HRF believes 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 is chaired by pro-democracy activist Garry Kasparov, and includes former prisoners of conscience George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Contact: Jamie Hancock, jamie@thehrf.org, 212-246-8486