Venezuela: Arrest of local mayor signals potential “witch hunt”

The arrest of a Venezuelan mayor for his alleged involvement in anti-government protests is a signal of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, said Amnesty International.

“With the arrest of Daniel Ceballos on suspicion of rebellion and conspiracy to commit a crime, authorities in Venezuela seem to be setting the scene for a witch hunt against opposition leaders,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

Daniel Ceballos, mayor of San Cristóbal, west of Venezuela, and member of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, was arrested by the Venezuelan Intelligence Security Services (SEBIN) on 19 March.

The Minister of Justice and Interior, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, announced on TV that Ceballos had been detained on charges of “civil rebellion” and “conspiracy”.

Torres also tweeted: “The arrest of Daniel Ceballos is an act of justice! This Mayor facilitated and supported the irrational violence that erupted in San Cristóbal. A mayor has an obligation to enforce the Constitution and laws, not to promote violence, anarchy and civil rebellion!”

These statements undermine the presumption of innocence, the corner stone of justice and due process.

Violent clashes between security forces, pro-government groups and anti-government protesters have escalated since February. Official sources have reported the death of at least 31 people, including six members of the security forces and over 460 people have been injured. More than 1,700 people have been detained, however most have been released conditionally.

“It is undeniable that authorities in Venezuela have a responsibility to maintain public order. However, unless they respect the human rights of all and exercise restraint, their actions will lead to even more violence. Of course, it is also crucial that opposition leaders send a clear message to their supporters not to commit human rights abuses,” said Guadalupe Marengo.