Saturday, April 25, 2009

An abominable sentence

An abominable sentence

Contrary to all legal logic, contrary to all justice, and in undisguised infringement of the National Constitution and of the penal legislation in force, three police commissioners and eight officers of the Metropolitan Police were accused, imprisoned, prosecuted, and condemned by a tribunal in a trial whose only purpose consisted in carrying out a political persecution operation aimed at endorsing an official fraud, ignoring the material and actual truth of what really happened in Caracas, on April 11, 2002.

On April 11, 2002, over a million Venezuelans marched peacefully headed towards the Miraflores Palace, headquarters of the presidency of the Republic, to protest against the arbitrary dismissal of Board of Directors of PDVSA and the threat to dismiss over 20,000 of its employees and workers, ordered by President Hugo Chavez. The march was not able to reach the presidential palace. Barricades, organized by the government with civilians from the “Bolivarian circles”, and squads of the National Guard, made it impossible for the marchers to advance, and were object of a sanguinary ambush. Nineteen citizens lost their lives, and over one hundred were injured, and impacted by the shots fired by the officially organized armed bands and the national guards. The photographs and videos published and broadcasted by the media eloquently document what happened that day, showing individuals located on top of a bridge near the Miraflores palace, shooting against the crowd. They also show national guards and members of the Bolivarian circles shooting against the defenseless marchers.

To the innocent victims who fell in that massacre, now, seven years later, eleven more victims are by the manipulative judicial system prevailing in Venezuela. Three commissioners of the Metropolitan Police and eight officers of that institution whose participation during the march consisted in protecting the marchers, and acting as a barrier in order to prevent the protest from being object of provocations by pro-government individuals, have been convicted after an abominable trial overfilled with irregularities and violations of the most elemental principles of penal justice such as the right to a due process, and the right to be freely judged.

Throughout five years, during which time they remained locked in the headquarters of the political police, in narrow prison cells lacking natural light, the accused were subject to an iniquitous psychological torture. The trial, having the embarrassing record of being the longest penal process ever held in this country, was located in the city of Maracay, 100 kilometers from Caracas, which required the accused to be transported by land for each hearing. Once transferred to Maracay, the hearings were frequently suspended without prior notice, most of the time because of vain motives. In total, the trial included 230 hearings, during which 265 experts reports, 5,700 pictures, and 20 videos were submitted, and the depositions of 198 witnesses and 48 experts were collected. During the proceeding, the Public Ministry was unable to demonstrate that these Police Commissioners fired the weapons used to kill the victims. Much less, the culpability of the accused could not be demonstrated without a reasonable doubt.

An investigation undertaken by the Due Process of Law Foundation, prestigious institution with headquarters in Washington, detected the following irregularities surrounding this trial: [Aportes FDPL – Number 9, Year 3, March 2009 ( - ( (Free non- official translation from the original Spanish text).

“Specifically, in the case of Ivan Simonovis, the investigation revealed that the judge who ordered his detention lacked the necessary impartiality and independence since he previously represented one of the persons against who Simonovis supposedly ordered to shoot. In like manner, it was determined that the Judge Presiding the Mixed Court that examined the case, is married to a well-known member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The political acquaintance of the judge’s husband with the party to which President Chavez belongs is evidently an element that may affect her independence and impartiality in this specific case, whereas the victims are deemed persons loyal to the government who were victims of the violence exercised to overthrow President Chavez. On the other hand, the accused are deemed as part of the rebel forces under the orders of the Mayor, Alfredo Peña, well-known Government oppositionist. Observation of the trial made it possible to accumulate enough evidence to affirm that the right to defense of the accused was violated, whereas the Public Ministry refused to submit copies of the evidence for the prosecution existing against him during the investigation stage, and refused to undertake certain proceedings timely requested by the defense. In light of the right to a due process of law, one particularly critical dimension is the excessive, unjustified delay in solving the case. The facts because of which they are being subject to trial took place on April 11, 2002, and there is no final sentence to date[1]. Said violation is more evident considering the fact that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela decided to implement an accusatory, criminal justice system, with oral and public trials, wherein it is expressly established that the hearings of oral trials are to be performed in a consecutive manner, and until all evidence has been presented. In this case, the oral trial began in June 20, 2006, and has not concluded to date”.

The following has to be added to the foregoing: 1) the selection of the lay judges was corrupted whereas the requirements of the law were not fully complied with, and two of them were officers of a government social missions, which means that they were politically engaged with the regime; 2) there was a condescending attitude towards the delays of the public prosecutors and plaintiffs in terms of complying with the timeline established to perform the hearings; 3) the claims filed by the defense were disregarded because of lack of respect for “reasonable time”; 4) all petitions for freedom were rejected, even after the conclusion of the term of two years provided for in the Criminal Code; 5) there was a clear, serious and evident affectation of the independence and impartiality of the court in respect of police commissioner Simonovis, whereas the Judge who issued the order of apprehension against Simonovis had previously represented one of the individuals who fired against the marchers on April 11 from Puente Llaguno, and the challenge interposed by the defense was disregarded by the court.

As a result of a sentence without precedents in the records of Venezuelan judicial history, last Friday, April 4th, Police commissioners Ivan Simonovis, Lazaro Forero and Henry Vivas, were sentenced to 30 years of prison, the maximum penalty contemplated by the Venezuelan criminal law, without having been able to prove their participation in the facts they were being accused of. By adopting a legal subterfuge, the Judge, Marjori Calderon, found them guilty of “necessary complicity in the commission of consummated, attempted, voluntary manslaughter, causing serious injuries, less serious injuries, and minor injuries”. In addition, the judge included in the sentence the express indication that the injuries constitute “serious violations of human rights” with which, in accordance with the provisions of article 29 of the National Constitution, the accused have been excluded from the procedural benefits, such as pardon or the amnesty.
This abominable sentence constitutes a brutal violation of justice and the rule of Law, and shows how the regime uses the organs of justice with political purposes as it pleases.

[1] This document was originally published in March 2009 and the sentence was pronounced in April