Friday, December 11, 2009

Human Rights: Lawyer condemns Chavista retribution following Release of political prisoner

Lawyers for former Venezuelan political prisoner Eligio Cedeno (photo) applauded today's ruling by Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, releasing Mr. Cedeno from incarceration.

The political nature of the charges against Mr. Cedeno was underscored by the fact that Judge Afiuni was arrested by the political police within minutes after she issued her ruling, demonstrating that judicial independence is treated as a criminal act under the Chavez regime. Judge Afiuni issued her ruling after prosecutors failed to appear for the second consecutive time at Mr. Cedeno's pretrial hearing, basing her decision primarily on an opinion earlier this year by an independent international body that had concluded that Mr. Cedeno's detention was arbitrary.

"It is important to place this attack on Judge Afiuni in context," noted lawyer Robert R. Amsterdam, international counsel for Mr. Cedeno. "In 2007, another judge who had issued a ruling that favored Cedeno was removed from the bench and one of her children narrowly escaped kidnapping shortly thereafter. She was subsequently granted political asylum in the United States.

Earlier this year, one of the lead prosecutors in the Cedeno proceedings testified about the numerous irregularities in the case against Cedeno, in response to a federal subpoena in Miami. That prosecutor was later threatened with arrest in Venezuela and was forced to flee the country. In November, after an appellate panel in Caracas determined that Cedeno's pretrial detention had gone on too long, the judge who issued the opinion was removed from the court of appeals and demoted. It is, therefore, no surprise to us that Judge Afiuni would face severe reprisals for taking this principled stand. While we fear for her safety, we salute her courage."

Mr. Cedeno had been held illegally in "pretrial detention" since February 2007 at the headquarters of Venezuela's political police, on fabricated charges of complicity in an allegedly improper currency exchange transaction.

Mr. Amsterdam and two Venezuelan attorneys published a White Paper earlier this year describing in great detail the breakdown of the judicial machinery in Venezuela. Their White Paper, entitled Bolivarian Rule of Lawlessness, The Eligio Cedeno Case: The Erosion of Judicial Autonomy in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, can be found at

SOURCE Amsterdam & Peroff

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