Venezuela: The Law of Vagrants and Crooks: suppressing dissent and punishing the poor

This report describes AI’s concern about the present Ley sobre Vagos y Maleantes (Law of Vagrants and Crooks), which allows the admininstrative detention for up to five years of people deemed by the police to be a threat to society. There is no judicial appeal or review and no requirement for evidence of a punishable crime which would stand in a court of law. In practice, a person can be detained simply on suspicion of been a “vagrant” or a “crook”. The law can also be applied to individuals simply on the basis of a past penal record. This report shows that the law infringes the Venezuelan constitution and several international human rights standards. In addition, it appears to be applied almost exclusively to the poorest sectors of the population, suggesting discrimination on the basis of social origin. The law is still used to suppress popular and political dissent. The report also comments on proposals to replace the Law of Vagrants and Crooks with new legislation. It concludes by urging the Government of Venezuela to repeal this law and either to charge those at present held under it with a recognizably criminal offence or to release them.

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