The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is alarmed by reports emanating from Venezuela of harassment of the lawyers representing the incarcerated judge, María Lourdes Afiuni.
It has been reported that Thelma Fernandez and José Amalio Graterol, the two lawyers acting for Judge Afiuni, have, during the course of carrying out their professional duties, received threats via telephone calls and text messaging. The acts of intimidation convey dissatisfaction in some quarters about recent criticisms the pair made of judges involved in passing sentence in the Afiuni case. They come at a time when Ms Fernandez and Mr Graterol are filing legal complaints regarding due process violations in respect of the case.
In addition, the IBAHRI understands that criminal charges are being prepared against Ms Fernandez and Mr Graterol in order to hinder their work on Judge Afiuni’s case.
Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Chair, commented: ‘These reports represent a disturbing development in the tragic and unlawful case of Judge Afiuni, already marked by numerous due process violations, including that of the right to defence.’ He added, ‘We respectfully remind the Venezuelan authorities that an independent legal profession is an essential component to any modern constitutional democracy. It is therefore imperative that the right of Judge Afiuni’s defence team to exercise its professional duties without fear of external interference, intimidation, hindrance or harassment is safeguarded. Further, the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyersprovides that Governments are obliged to ensure that lawyers shall not suffer or be threatened with sanctions for any action as part of their professional duties. The Principles also assert that in situations where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their duties, they must be adequately protected by the authorities. As a member state of the United Nations, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is obligated to fulfil the requirements embodied in the Principles.’
Judge Afiuni was initially imprisoned on 10 December 2009, for 18 months, for lawfully releasing an individual from pre-trial detention. Following serious health complications, aggravated by the lack of access to medical treatment in prison, Judge Afiuni was transferred to house arrest in February 2011. Recently, the Venezuelan Government extended her house arrest for at least two additional years.
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In 2011, a high-level IBAHRI delegation visited Caracas and published its findings in the report Distrust in Justice: The Afiuni case and the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela. Although the harassment of lawyers in general was not found to be a systematic problem at the time, the IBAHRI delegation was concerned to hear that certain lawyers acting in politically sensitive cases had suffered intimidation and threats.
Click here for the full report, Distrust in Justice: the Afiuni case and the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela. – Only available in Spanish.
Click here for the Executive summary. – In English.
Haga clic aqui para leer en espanol.