The alleged ongoing harassment of Juan Carlos Gutiérrez in Venezuela as he carries out his professional duties as defence lawyer for Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López is of great concern to the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI).
On 25 April 2016 Mr Gutiérrez filed a formal complaint before the National Prosecutor’s Office stating he was a victim of several humiliating practices carried out by the military authorities at the Ramo Verde prison where Mr López has been detained since February 2014. These included: invasive body searches; verbal and physical attacks; strip searches; intrusive and inappropriate touching; and the deprivation of personal belongings.
Mr Gutiérrez asserts that his ability to represent his client has been impeded by unjustifiable restrictions imposed on his communications with Mr López. He further contends that legal professional privilege has been compromised at Ramo Verde prison by the military authorities recording all his and his client’s meetings; reading, and sometimes withholding, their lawyer-client documentation without permission; photographing him without consent; and accessing and scrutinising information on his mobile phone.
Baroness Helena Kennedy, IBAHRI Co-Chair, stated: 'We are deeply concerned about the recurrent persecution and obstacles deployed against lawyers and human rights defenders involved in politically sensitive cases in Venezuela. The attacks on their work affect not only their rights, but undermine the rights of the defendant, harms the effectiveness of any defence and imposes undue restrictions on due process. Moreover, these actions create a deterrent effect, silencing other views and expressions of dissent by those exercising their right to freedom of expression. The Venezuelan government must stop such attacks and take necessary measures to ensure a safe environment for lawyers so that they can perform their professional functions free from any kind of harassment.’
Detained in February 2014, after participating in a series of peaceful demonstrations, Mr López was convicted of a range of offences including incitement, criminal association and arson, and was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison in September 2015. Mr López has also reported harassment towards him and his family by the authorities at the Ramo Verde prison.
Notes to the Editor
(1) The IBAHRI has been concerned about the deterioration of the rule of law in Venezuela for some time, including the working conditions of lawyers and threats to the independence of the legal profession. In 2014, it published a 28-page IBAHRI trial observation report on the trial of Judge María Afiuni, which it considers emblematic of the critical threats facing the Venezuelan judiciary.The IBAHRI found Judge Afiuni’s trial to be characterised by multiple due process and human rights violations. It also expressed serious concern about the ongoing deterioration of the rule of law and the administration of justice in Venezuela. Click here to read the report The Execution of Justice: The criminal trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni
(2) In its 2013 report The Criminal Trial of Venezuelan Lawyer JoséAmalio Graterol, based on the trial observation of Judge Afiuni’s lawyer, the IBAHRI expressed concern about the independence of the legal profession in Venezuela. Click here to read the report.
(3) For information on all of IBAHRI’s previous work on Venezuela, visit tinyurl.com/3pznmk3.
(4) The International Bar Association(IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies, it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.
The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington, DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
(5) Twitter handle: @IBAHRI
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