Annual Report 2013
The state of the world's human rights

26 January 2011

Venezuela urged to release judge held without trial for a year

Venezuela urged to release judge held without trial for a year

Amnesty International has urged the Venezuelan authorities to release a judge held for over a year without trial for provisionally releasing a banker accused of corruption.

Judge María Lourdes Afiuni Mora was arrested on 10 December 2009, hours after she ordered the release of banker Eligio Cedeño, a decision that was within her power and consistent with Venezuelan law.

A day after her arrest, the judge's decision was condemned by President Hugo Chávez during a television interview in which he called for her to serve the maximum sentence of 30 years.

Held at Los Teques women's prison, outside the capital, Caracas, Judge Afiuni is reported to be in urgent need of medical treatment and has received threats from fellow inmates she has convicted and sentenced. No official investigations have been launched into the threats.

"Judge Afiuni's detention is apparently the result of political interference by President Chavez. She has been detained for simply carrying out her job and as such she must be released," said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International's Americas Deputy Director.

"She is in poor health for which she is being given little or no treatment and she could be at risk of violence. The authorities must ensure that while she remains in detention she is not tortured or otherwise ill-treated from either prison guards or inmates."
Judge Afiuni has been charged with "ordinary corruption (corrupción propia), abuse of authority, aiding escape and criminal association" in relation to her decision in December 2009 to order the conditional release of banker Eligio Cedeño.

One year on, the Attorney-General's Office has not provided reliable evidence to substantiate the charges of corruption and abuse of authority against Judge Afiuni.

Her family have raised concerns that her physical condition appears to be deteriorating and yet the authorities are reported to have delayed or even ignored requests for medical treatment.

According to medical reports, Judge Afiuni has two tumours in her breasts. She also has a gynaecological problem which has caused her to have heavy haemorrhaging since November 2010. Doctors have not been allowed to conclude the medical tests necessary to prescribe adequate treatment.

In January 2011 she also had several episodes of tachycardia for which she has not received adequate treatment.

On 10 December 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requested that the Venezuelan authorities take immediate measures to guarantee the life and physical and mental integrity of Judge Afiuni and to ensure that if medical care was needed she was given access to doctor of her choice.

The Court gave Venezuela until the 20 December to inform on the actions taken. Amnesty International is not aware of any response by the Venezuela government.

On 16 December 2009 the United Nations said that the "immediate and unconditional release of Judge Afiuni is imperative" and that "reprisals for exercising her constitutionally guaranteed functions and creating a climate of fear among the judiciary and lawyers' profession serve no purpose except to undermine the rule of law and obstruct justice".

Amnesty International said it is concerned that Judge Afiuni's case may deter other judges from treating all defendants equally according to Venezuelan law and international human rights treaties to which Venezuela is a party.

The organization said that judges' fears that those in higher authority refuse to accept their rulings may adversely affect the population’s human rights and the ability of defendants and victims of possible human rights abuses to secure justice.







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