NEW YORK – Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the inhuman and degrading treatment of Lilian Tintori and Antonieta Mendoza, wife and mother of prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López, by military personnel at Ramo Verde prison.
Both women were told to undress in separate rooms — in the case of Mendoza, she was forced to do so in front of her two grandchildren, ages three and six — and were verbally abused in an attempt to punish and humiliate them. The abuse was carried out on January 17 by two female guards under the supervision of Colonel José Viloria Sosa, director of the military prison in which López is being held.
“No person should ever have to go through this indignity. What happened to these women has sparked a strong public reaction inside and outside of Venezuela: anger, frustration, sadness, and a will to bring about a peaceful but necessary removal of the government via constitutional means,” said Garry Kasparov, chairman of HRF. “This is the real face of Maduro’s Venezuela. It must be noted that incidents like this occur every day in a penal system where there are more than 70 political prisoners and most of the prison population at large consists primarily of people who have never even been granted a trial,” said Kasparov.
Lilian Tintori reported that she, along with her two children and her mother-in-law, was the victim of abuse by the military guards at the prison. Tintori said in her Twitter account that “[On Sunday] at Ramo Verde, they put me in this little room, took off all my clothes: bra, panties, and menstrual pad included” and “I was completely undressed and repeatedly asked to open my legs while they even checked the pad they had made me remove.” Apart from the degrading treatment, she also mentioned that the colonel threatened to ban her from visiting López for six months.
Likewise, Antonieta Mendoza de López was the victim of the same type of abuse by the guards, but this time in front of her grandchildren. "I was told to do the same thing as Lilian: 'take off your shoes, take off your socks, take off your pants. I was undressed, completely,’” said Antonieta during an interview with NTN24. “I had my beloved Manuela by my side and she couldn’t believe what was happening to her grandma… it is an image I wish I could erase from Manuela’s mind… I don’t want Manuela to remember that her grandmother was undressed, told to open her legs and yelled at to ‘Open your legs! Wider!’” added Mrs. Mendoza.
López has been held at Ramo Verde for nearly two years and has spent more than half that time in solitary confinement, with limited access to visits and no contact with the rest of the inmates. López was arbitrarily detained on February 18, 2014, in Caracas, after leading massive peaceful demonstrations calling for President Nicolás Maduro’s resignation. In August 2014, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that the detention of López was in fact arbitrary, and ordered the Venezuelan government to release him immediately. The Maduro regime ignored the UN decision, and in September 2015, sentenced López to 13 years and 9 months in jail for allegedly committing the crimes of arson, damages to public property, incitement to commit a crime, and conspiracy.
“The actions against the family members of Leopoldo López violate the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, both of which were ratified by Venezuela in 1991,” said Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer of HRF. “In 2008, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights established that bodily searches of prison visitors shall ‘comply with the principles of necessity, reasonableness and proportionality;’ that they shall ‘be compatible with human dignity;’ and that, as a result, ‘intrusive vaginal or anal searches shall be forbidden by law.’ With these disturbing actions, Venezuela’s regime continues to disregard basic international legal standards. Continues to show contempt for human dignity. These practices need to stop,” El-Hage added.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.