joint statement about the spate of military trials of civilians. Excerpt:
As of May 15, the Venezuelan Penal Forum has obtained information regarding the prosecution of at least 275 civilians by military courts in Venezuela. In all these cases, the Venezuelan Penal Forum has directly assisted detainees or verified information regarding the prosecutions through direct contact with family members. Human Rights Watch interviewed several of the lawyers representing detainees. The cases include the prosecution of 192 civilians in Carabobo state, 19 in Falcon state, 20 in Zulia state, 18 in Caracas, 13 in Lara state, 10 in Sucre state, two in Barinas state, and one in Táchira state. 159 of these defendants were in pretrial detention as of May 12. Detainees are being held in military prisons, prisons for detainees subject to military prosecution, high-security prisons, or in headquarters of the intelligence services.
While no public record of these proceedings is available—a problem in its own right—the accounts by lawyers and family members include many disturbing allegations of abuses and procedural defects in the conduct of these prosecutions, including the following:
- Detainees being subjected to physical and other abuses that may in some cases amount to torture at the moment of their arrest or during detention.
- Hearings being held in military courts or other military installations, presided over by military judges who report to the Minister of Defense, and sometimes in the presence of armed guards.
- Judges charging large groups of protesters with crimes en masse, without any individualized consideration of the evidence against them.
- Hearing times not being specified in advance, leaving independent lawyers and families waiting at the entrance of military facilities or courts for hours. Lawyers say that when hearings are held, they are sometimes not able to enter the courtroom; when they are allowed to enter, they often are only able to speak to detainees a few minutes before the hearings, only have access to the criminal file when they are at the hearing, and cannot take pictures or copies of the files.
- Protesters being charged with serious crimes under the military code, such as “rebellion” and “treason,” for alleged acts of violence at protests.