As we published in our posting yesterday, there have been several arbitrary, senseless arrests in Venezuela following the judicial order which released Eligio Cedeño on his own recognizance. Most of the press has focused on the detention of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, whom Chávez personally attacked with alarming rancor – he called for a jail sentence of 30 years, the maximum penalty given to someone for homicide, for this brave judge who did nothing more than perform her job with independence and scruples.
But there are other hostages being held by the government. In addition to various bailiffs (one of whom wasn’t even in the building at the time), they arrested on Dec. 11th José Rafael Parra Saluzzo, a lawyer close to Cedeño, but not a member of the defense team. He is currently being held at the headquarters of the military police (DIM). There is no reason given for his detention, no crime committed whatsoever, and no legitimate reason for the police to imprison an innocent man.
The information we have received from our sources reports that Parra has not been mistreated, but there are serious fears for his safety and life. We believe that the government is arbitrarily holding this lawyer as a hostage bargaining chip to force Cedeño to return to his cell at the DISIP headquarters, where he had been held without a valid legal basis for the past two years and ten months.
The detention of Mr. Parra is an example of criminal gang tactics by the administration of President Hugo Chávez. The pretrial detention of Eligio Cedeño was clearly illegal under Venezuelan and international law. The decision by Judge Afiuni was a heartening albeit brief sign that there remained some glimmer of independence in the criminal justice system in Venezuela, but the state is conducting itself in a wildly unlawful manner to squelch that independence. This demonstrates just what happens to political cases under Chavista justice.
José Rafael Parra Saluzzo has become an innocent hostage, and it is incumbent upon us in the international community to loudly demand that the Chávez government release him immediately.