July 29, 2014 (part 2)

As Trial Begins, Leopoldo López Files Petition to UN Detailing Abuses

"It's hard to imagine how Lopez could possibly get a fair trial from a justice system that lacks any real independence...After keeping him locked up for months without providing credible evidence to justify his detention, the judiciary is now refusing to let his attorneys present evidence in his defense."

~ Jose Miguel Vivanco
Director, Americas Division, Human Rights Watch

A Report From the Court Room: Day 1

The show-trial of Venezuelan opposition leader and prisoner of conscience, Leopoldo López, began last week, July 23 at the Palace of Justice in Caracas. According to an eyewitness report:

Presiding Judge Susana Barreiros permitted the prosecutor to accuse Leopoldo of crimes he is not officially charged of. In his opening remarks, the prosecutor did not cite any provisions of law in his opening statement - he spoke of criminal conspiracy but never said what provisions of law Leopoldo was conspiring to break.  He claimed that Leopoldo was trying to overthrow the government, even though Leopoldo is only charged with damage to property, instigation and criminal association. He went on to allege that the four students also on trial - Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Ángel González, and Demian Martin - engaged in acts of violence. They did not - they were merely present when the security forces opened fire at the Attorney General's office.

Judge Barreiros also denied the claims filed by Leopoldo's defense team to submit evidence of his innocence and of the human rights abuses perpetrated against him. She did, however, allow the prosecution to submit 56 exhibits of evidence, including witness accounts, expert testimonies, videos and studies, all of them produced by public prosecutors. These will be presented throughout the course of the trial.

Due to a Venezuelan public holiday on Thursday, Leopoldo's trial will reportedly reconvene on August 6.

Maduro Publicly Asserts Leopoldo's Guilt, Vows Punishment In Extraordinary Violation of Due Process

In a press conference on the opening day of Leopoldo's trial, President Nicolás Maduro asserted Leopoldo's guilt and vowed to punish him:

Well, it is the trial of the extreme right leader, who is responsible of crimes, violence, and destruction of human lives that he planned...He has a...quite a crazy messianic vision...that, let me tell you, alienates and poisons people making them crazy. He is responsible for crimes that he has to be accountable for and he will be before justice. He will be and will be, as simple as that...Justice be done! Only justice will punish the resurgence of the neo-Nazi and fascist sectors that want to impose scenarios like Ukraine, Palestine, Syria, or Libya. That will not happen; they will not come back.

In response, Leopoldo's lawyer, Juan Carlos Gutierrez, filed a complaint to the Venezuelan Supreme Court, stating that: "President Maduro's public comments about Leopoldo's case violated the sacred rights of a criminal defendant enshrined in our Constitution." Jared Genser, international counsel to Leopoldo further remarked: "President Maduro's comments are an egregious and outrageous violation of Leopoldo's internationally-protected rights to the presumption of innocence and independence of the judiciary."

A transcript of President Maduro's comments about Leopoldo are available in English here and in Spanish here .

Leopoldo and Other Political Prisoners Assaulted in Prison

In the early morning hours of July 24, Leopoldo and former mayors Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos were awakened and assaulted and robbed in Ramo Verde prison by officers of the Military Intelligence Directorate. And on top of this, Leopoldo was returned to solitary confinement and unable to see his wife, Lilian Tintori, even though visitations were supposed to resume once the trial commenced.

Juan Carlos Gutiérrez has filed a lawsuit against the director of Ramo Verde jail with the Public Prosecutor Ministry, and participated in a press conference along with Lilian and the wives of Scarano and Ceballos on Thursday to discuss the human rights abuses committed against their husbands. The video is available here in Spanish.

Complaint Filed to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Leopoldo's defense team also filed a complaint against President Maduro to Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. The petition asserts that Leopoldo's ongoing and enforced solitary confinement is being used as punishment for his political activism and urges the Venezuelan government to immediately change the conditions of his imprisonment:

Mr. López has been subjected to psychological torture over the past five months through permanent, enforced, and arbitrary solitary confinement up to 23-24 hours a day, including a three-month period without natural light, which damaged his eyes.  He has also been punished on three occasions for purported offenses and denied all visitors for three two-week periods . . . He has never been provided confidential attorney-client communication or private telephone calls.

You can read the entire petition here.