NEW YORK — Human Rights Foundation (HRF) strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest on apparent terrorism charges of opposition leader Yon Goicoechea by agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).
HRF calls on Venezuela’s government to stop fabricating absurd evidence on prodemocracy activists, to provide information on Goicoechea’s whereabouts and to release him immediately. Goicoechea’s family has received no news of him since Monday, when armed agents stopped his car and transported him to an undisclosed location. Goicoechea’s is the latest detention in an ongoing crackdown against the country’s democratic opposition. This crackdown has intensified ahead of planned nationwide demonstrations — called for tomorrow, September 1 — to demand a presidential recall referendum.
“The violent abduction of Yon Goicoechea, a former student leader with an impeccable track record of nonviolence in Venezuela, who later graduated from one of the most prestigious law schools in the U.S., is just the latest example of the relentless persecution and violence suffered by Venezuela’s democratic opposition over the last two decades. What is most troubling about this type of abuse by the political police is not that it allows the government to take prominent public figures hostage, but that these detentions send a chilling message to the rest of society,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “The meaning is clear: ‘If we do this to a well known person, we can do this to anyone. It’s better to keep your mouth shut.’ We demand that the regime produce reliable information about Goicoechea’s condition and release him immediately,” he added.
The only official statement about Goicoechea’s arrest to date has come from the regime’s second most powerful man, Diosdado Cabello, who said during a pro-government rally: “Today, a man called Yon Goicoechea was arrested. He was arrested and found in possession of detonating fuse for explosives. That man was trained by the U.S. empire for years. Remember, this was the guy from 2007, right? Out of nowhere, someone gave him five hundred thousand dollars and he left Venezuela. It seems like he ran out of money and now has come back and is bloodthirsty. He was given that task in the United States. But today the state agencies acted; and state agencies will continue to act because we prefer to lock up a murderer well in advance than to have Venezuelan blood spilled on the streets.”
In 2007, Goicoechea became one of the key leaders and a spokesman for Venezuela’s student movement, which advocated nonviolent resistance against President Hugo Chávez’s increasingly authoritarian policies. His leadership in the movement was instrumental in Chávez’s defeat in the 2007 constitutional referendum. Through this referendum, Chávez aimed to amend the constitution again to reduce constitutional checks over the executive and allow for his indefinite reelection. In 2008, Goicoechea was awarded the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, and in 2012 he moved to New York to pursue a master’s degree at Columbia University School of Law. He graduated from Columbia Law School in 2013 but remained largely out of the public eye until August 5, 2016, when he became a member of opposition-party Voluntad Popular led by Leopoldo López, one of Venezuela’s best known prisoners of conscience.
Goicoechea’s 2007 case was the second in HRF’s Caracas Nine campaign, designed to promote awareness of human rights abuses and to seek legal protection for individuals persecuted and endangered by the government of Venezuela.
Over this past weekend, government security forces also arrested several other members of Venezuela’s democratic opposition. On Saturday, armed agents showed up at the home of opposition leader Daniel Ceballos and, after telling his wife that he was being taken away for a medical exam, put him in an ambulance and took him to the “26 de Julio” penitentiary in Guárico State. That same day, an arrest warrant was issued against Warner Jimenez, the opposition mayor of Maturin. On Sunday, the home of opposition leader Lester Toledo was illegally raided by government officials. Lastly, Francisco Márquez and Gabriel San Miguel, two activists detained on June 19 as they promoted the recall referendum, were transferred to a maximum security prison in Carabobo State.
On Monday, August 29, Major General Nestor Reverol, the recently appointed interior minister indicted in a U.S. court over allegations of participation in a cocaine distribution scheme, confirmed the actions taken by the political police, warning that the government would be “taking every action so that peace reigns in the country.” Major General Reverol added, “In light of the demonstration called by the opposition for September 1 where, according to intelligence reports that have been analyzed and acted upon, we presume violence and acts of subversion will take place.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time the Venezuelan regime plants highly damning and completely ludicrous evidence to justify trumped-up charges against prestigious individuals. The imprisonment of Mr. Goicoechea is arbitrary, unlawful, and violates Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Venezuela in 1978,” said Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer of HRF. “While today there is no independent judiciary that can provide an effective remedy to aggrieved Venezuelans like Mr. Goicoechea and many others, under a future democratic government they will certainly be able to bring the perpetrators of these abuses to justice. Even under the Chavista constitution, the recall referendum should be allowed to proceed, and Venezuelans may then open the door for basic rule of law and due process to return to their country,” he added.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.