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Amnesty International denounces torture of opposition protestors in Venezuela

Rights organization gathers testimonies from alleged victims of government forces

An injured protestor who was shot by Venezuelan security forces on March 30 is given medical assistance. / MIGUEL GUTIERREZ (EFE)

The anti-government protests and riots in Venezuela that have been going on for nearly two months have resulted in torture, abuse, arbitrary arrests and human rights violations against the opposition, Amnesty International (AI) said in a report released in Madrid on Tuesday.

AI has called on the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) to urge the government of President Nicolás Maduro to seek dialogue with his opponents.

“Until now, only Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil have offered to mediate,” said Nuria García, AI’s investigator for South America and the author of the report, during a press conference in the Spanish capital.

AI has taken testimony from witnesses and family members of various murder victims

The ongoing unrest has left at least 39 people dead, and nearly 600 others injured, mostly due to rubber bullets fired by law enforcement officers. Of the 2,157 people arrested, only 66 people have so far been unconditionally released, added Esteban Beltrán, AI director for Spain.

Amnesty has received “dozens of complaints,” García said, including around 50 reports of torture and inhumane and humiliating treatment against protestors carried out by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

While AI has had the opportunity to interview “dozens” of victims, the report details 10 cases of alleged human rights abuses committed in Venezuela during the past weeks. “The biggest problem we have encountered is that people are afraid to talk because they fear reprisals,” she told EL PAÍS during a side interview.

She insisted that “Venezuela is extremely polarized” and explained that the country is undergoing its biggest human rights crisis since 2002, when the late President Hugo Chávez was briefly overthrown by a military faction supported by businessmen.

People are afraid to talk because they fear reprisals”

On one positive note, García said that Venezuela’s attorney general has opened 81 cases, including two for torture and two for murder. Even though “17 officers have been detained,” AI said that it doesn’t have any knowledge as to whether formal charges have been filed against them.

“We are keeping an eye out to ensure that all victims have legal representation,” she said.

AI has taken testimony from witnesses and family members of various murder victims, including Jeraldine Moreno, who was shot by an officer who was holding his weapon just 30 centimeters from her body. Bassil Da Costa, a 23-year-old student, was one of the first victims in the clashes. He was shot in the head as he tried to escape from security forces and other armed groups in Caracas.

“These are not accidental deaths. They are hunting their victims,” said his mother Janet Frías in a telephone interview. “My son’s murder cannot go unpunished.”

Daniel Quintero, a 21-year-old student, described how he was punched and kicked in the ribs and face after he was arrested on February 21 in Maracaibo, where he had participated in a demonstration. “They started kicking and punching me as soon as they had arrested me. I told them to stop, and they said, ‘Shut up, you bastard, you criminal’.”

Sometime later, a pro-government armed group threw him into a vehicle and the driver hit him with the butt of his rifle, according to the AI report.

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