(July 11, 2016 | Washington, D.C.) Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights condemns the continued arbitrary detention of Francisco Marquez and Gabriel San Miguel, two young opposition activists from the Voluntad Popular Party who were helping to validate signatures for the recall referendum in Venezuela.
On June 19, Marquez and San Miguel were travelling from Caracas to Portuguesa State in order to collaborate with the signature validation process for the recall referendum. Approximately at 7pm that day, they were stopped at the Apartadero toll in Cojedes and detained without an arrest warrant by the Bolivarian National Guard. Their campaign material, money and cell phones were confiscated and they were interrogated by members of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and were prevented to communicate with their families or lawyers. They were later transferred to the Penitentiary of San Juan de Los Morros in Cojedes, where they remain to date. On June 23, a judge confirmed their detention on trumped up charges of money laundering and incitement to violence, crimes loosely attributed to anyone who questions or challenges the Venezuelan government these days.
“This latest arrest of opposition activists illustrates how far the government of Venezuela is willing to go to crack down on dissent when even validating signatures for a recall referendum is perceived as a threat” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The right to promote a referendum is a basic component of a healthy democracy and any citizen should be able to advocate for it”
Even though democracy and rule of law in Venezuela have been on a downward spiral for the past 15 years, the February 2014 protests across the country demonstrated how the levels of frustration of Venezuelan people with the economic crisis, criminal rates and abuses by security forces had reached a new high. But these protests were also met with a stronger crackdown by the government and over 3.500 arbritrary detentions took place. The current number of political prisoners is estimated to be over 100 and include prominent political figures like opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. However, more recently and on the heels of a recall referendum been promoted by large sectors of Venezuelan society, the repression is being extended to ordinary citizens who are actively promoting the referendum, such as Marquez and San Miguel.
“The recall referendum process is established by the Venezuelan Constitution” said Angelita Baeyens, Programs Director of RFKennedy Partners for Human Rights. “Nobody should be persecuted for promoting a constitutionally backed initiative”.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will continue monitoring the human rights situation in Venezuela and calls on the Government to immediately release Francisco Marquez and Gabriel San Miguel, as well as all the other political prisoners.