The prosecution of Venezuelan lawyer José Amalio Graterol was arbitrary and lacking basic due process safeguards concludes the trial observation report published today by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) – the only international organisation to have maintained an observation at the hearings conducted between July 2012 and December 2012.
The 20-page report, entitled The Criminal Trial of Venezuelan Lawyer José Amalio Graterol, considers that as well as multiple due process violations of national and international law, the prosecution and conviction of Mr Graterol contravenes several guarantees for the functioning of lawyers contained in the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. In particular, the Report contains the IBAHRI’s concern at:
The lack of a judicial order for Mr Graterol’s arrest;
The retroactive criminal penalty imposed eleven days after his arrest on 15 June 2012 when Venezuela’s Criminal Procedure Code was amended by presidential decree to permit trials in absentia, making Mr Graterol’s refusal to continue with a trial in the absence of his client a criminal offence. An action by Venezuela’s authorities contrary to international human rights standards, specifically, Article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 9 of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (IACHR);
Contradictions between the prosecutor’s allegations and the lack of witness testimony; and
Significant procedural delays during the trial.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said ‘José Graterol’s conviction strikes yet another blow to the rule of law and independence of the legal profession in Venezuela. There is a real danger that the ‘Graterol case’ will cause a “chilling” effect among the Venezuelan legal profession, with lawyers fearful of being deprived of their liberty for taking politically sensitive cases.’ She added, ‘The IBAHRI strongly urges the Venezuelan government to annul the criminal court decisions that convicted Mr Graterol and to respect the international human rights treaties it has ratified, especially in view of its current seat on the UN Human Rights Council’.
In an exclusive interview released today alongside the report, Mr Graterol told the IBAHRI, ‘As defence lawyers for Judge Afiuni we [Mr Graterol and Thelma Fernandez] encountered huge difficulties, from personal and political persecution, being demonised by judges and other judicial officials, to having our clients told that it doesn’t matter whether we are good or bad lawyers, that we should not instruct them because we are Afiuni’s lawyers. They have tried to stop us exercising our professional duties, but we have continued to fight for the independence of the judiciary.’ He added, ‘As lawyers representing Judge Afiuni, the most emblematic case of torture and political imprisonment in Venezuela, they have tried to remove us from the legal scene, so that we cannot practise as lawyers. They tried to silence us. But they stumbled upon a group of fearless people.’
Click here to download the IBAHRI report The Criminal Trial of Venezuelan Lawyer José Amalio Graterol (English).
Click here to download the IBAHRI report El Juicio Penal contra el Abogado Venezolano José Amalio Graterol (Spanish).
Click here to watch a five-minute IBA film on the Graterol case, including interviews with Graterol and Venezuelan lawyer Thelma Fernandez..
Mr Graterol is defence lawyer to Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, one of Venezuela’s most high-profile political prisoners. He was arrested on 4 June 2012, a day after he had made public criticisms of the Venezuelan authorities’ handling of the Afiuni case. Mr Graterol was charged with ‘obstruction of justice’ because he refused to continue a trial in a separate case where his client had not appeared, in accordance with Venezuelan law that at the time prohibited trials in absentia. A few days later, the Venezuelan Criminal Procedure Code was amended by presidential decree to allow for trials in absentia, effectively basing the charge against Mr Graterol on a retroactive use of the amended provision.
Given the circumstances surrounding the conviction, the report highlights that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the prosecution has been brought against Mr Graterol in order to frustrate the defence of Judge Afiuni and/or in retribution for his defence of Judge Afiuni and related public criticisms.
Mr Graterol was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison for ‘obstruction of justice’ on 18 December 2012. His appeal was denied on 15 July 2013. At the time of writing, Mr Graterol is waiting for a ‘psychosocial’ examination that will determine whether he shows sufficient remorse for his ‘crime’ and whether he will serve his sentence in prison or on conditional release.
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