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Working to Free Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni

For several months, many people, including some from the Carr Center, have been working diligently behind the scenes to win freedom for Venezuelan judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni. Since December of 2009, Judge Afiuni has been held, often under very harsh conditions, as reprisal for her having freed a Venezuelan business man, himself confined for more than three years without trial. On July 3, 2011 these behind the scenes efforts suddenly became very public with the simultaneous publication, in several major newspapers around the world, of an open letter from respected academic and public intellectual Noam Chomsky to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

More Background:

On December 10th 2009, in a preliminary hearing Judge Afiuni changed the legal status of Eligio Cedeño, a banker prosecuted for corruption charges, from detention to conditional release pending trial. She did so because Mr. Cedeño had been imprisoned for more than three years without trial, something that went against both Venezuelan law and opinion No 10/2009 (A/HRC/13/30/Add.1, p. 325) put fourth by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions.

A few hours after the preliminary hearing, agents of the Servicios Bolivarianos de Inteligencia (SEBIN), the political police, arrested the judge and the court bailiffs on the basis of alleged irregularities in the sentencing process. Next day, December 11th, in a message broadcast to the nation on radio and television, President Hugo Chávez called Judge Afiuni a crook. He ordered the Attorney General and the President of the Supreme Court to punish her with the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, in order to prevent and discourage other judges from similar crimes. The presidential order to put her behind bars was immediately confirmed by the organs of justice.

During Judge Afiuni's more than one year in detention, she was imprisoned alongside ordinary prisoners and deprived of the minimum conditions needed to guarantee her physical and psychological integrity, as well as her safety. As a result, at INOF, judge Afiuni was assaulted in two occasions, while the authorities turned a blind eye. She was the only inmate in the prison not permitted to go out to the patio under the sun and her cell had neither proper ventilation nor adequate sanitary conditions.

She was also denied timely medical attention and during months on end a potential tumor that could severely affect her health was ignored. It was only in January 2011, after her condition deteriorated notoriously, that she underwent urgent surgery. That same month the Inter American Commission of Human rights provided precautionary measures in Mrs. Afiuni's favor, requesting the State to respect the guarantees of due process and her transfer to a place where her life and integrity would be safe.

The intense national and international campaign advanced by so many human rights organizations, as well as the effort by Professor Chomsky and the Carr Center bore its fruit. After more than a year in prison and following surgery, in January 2011 Venezuela's Attorney General asked the judge in charge that Afiuni be given house arrest, given her fragile health condition. She is currently required to present herself every 8 days in court, and is not allowed to give any declarations to the press. But being in her house with her family and with adequate medical attention has been a significant improvement of her situation. However, these measures have not changed the circumstances affecting the case. Judge Afiuni remains arbitrarily detained, and now forcibly silenced, in her house. Invoking article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution, Judge Afiuni has declared herself in civil disobedience.

Judge Afiuni has suffered enough. She has been subject to acts of violence and humiliations to undermine her human dignity. The Carr Center will continue advancing alternative diplomacy actions in favor of her definite liberation.

Mr. Chomsky's
open letter to
President Chávez:

Chomsky Letter

In Spanish

In English

Related Links:

Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chávez for 'assault' on democracy
The Guardian (UK), July 3, 2011.

Noted Leftist Urges Chávez to Release Ailing Judge
New York Times, July 2, 2011.

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