Venezuelan journalist freed after 7 weeks in military prison must appear before authorities every 30 days

Update (Aug. 25): Journalist and activist Carlos Julio Rojas was freed from a Venezuelan military prison on Aug. 24 after spending more than seven weeks in detention. At an Aug. 23 press conference, human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations called for international organizations to be allowed to monitor the conditions of political prisoners and specifically mentioned Rojas' case.

Rojas has been accused of treason, military rebellion and theft of artifacts of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, according to El Estímulo.

"Thanks to my family, journalist colleagues and our people of Caracas who gave me body and soul to gain my freedom," Rojas wrote via Twitter after his release.

According to the National Association of Journalists (CNP) in Venezuela, the journalist was placed under four precautionary measures, including one that will require him to report to the authorities every 30 days.

Rojas' mother, Sol Rojas, told Unión Radio she will take the case to international bodies rather than the Venezuelan judicial system or National Assembly, according to news site RunRun.es. "I will not go to any other national entity because I don't recognize them," she said.

Original (Aug. 23): Human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations from the Americas have called for international organizations to be able to “verify the physical integrity” of people in Venezuela imprisoned for political reasons, according to freedom of expression organization IPYS Venezuela.

Thirty-three organizations and almost two dozen individuals signed a formal letter with the request, which was presented at a press conference on Aug. 23.

During the press conference, the groups highlighted the case of journalist Carlos Julio Rojas as being particularly worrisome to journalist organizations, El Nacional reported.

Rojas, who is a local leader of the Candelaria parish in Caracas, was detained on July 6 without a warrant by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB for its acronym in Spanish) and accused by officials of insulting the government of President Nicolás Maduro and inciting people to demonstrate, news site Efecto Cocuyo reported.

At the time, Rojas’ lawyer noted that one of the witnesses against the journalist was someone Rojas previously denounced before the public prosecutor for harassment and intimidation, according to Efecto Cocuyo. The news site noted that "he is the first journalist to be tried on military charges."

Through his mother, Rojas recently reported inhumane conditions at the military prison where he is being held, according to El Nacional. He described cramped cells that do not permit prisoners to sleep or walk, and said they are given 60 grams of food a day, according to the publication. Whether or not they receive food depends on their behavior.

Between April 1 and July 30, 2017, there were 128 people killed and 1,934 injured during protests, 5,051 arbitrary detentions and 676 prisoners of conscience, IPYS Venezuela wrote, citing the public prosecutor, the UN High Commissioner and Foro Penal, respectively.

The letter released on behalf of the various human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations cites a recent report prepared by the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner regarding rights violations during protests.

“Interviews conducted remotely by a UN human rights team paint a picture of widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela,” the UN report reads. It added that the High Commissioner for Human Rights sent the team to remotely monitor the situation from Panama since Venezuelan authorities did not respond to requests for access. During the monitoring, the team conducted about 135 interviews.

Regarding arbitrary detentions, the office said, “In several of the cases reviewed by the UN Human Rights Office, there were credible reports of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by security forces of such detainees, amounting in several cases to torture.”  They cited tactics such as electric shocks, beatings, hangings by the wrist, suffocation with gas and threats of killings and sexual violence.

The institutions that should prevent this from happening, the current Attorney General’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office, have been subordinated to a fraudulent National Constituent Assembly, thus guaranteeing impunity for both violations and human rights violators,” read the letter released Aug. 23 by the group of 33 organizations.

Therefore, they want international institutions specializing in human rights – the organizations named the UN and OAS, in particular – and humanitarian agencies to pressure the state to be able to monitor the conditions of those imprisoned.

Oswaldo Cali from freedom of expression organization Espacio Público said Rojas' case would be taken to international entities and named the Inter American system in particular.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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