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News: Law and Justice

Inmate Testimony Casts Doubt on Venezuelan Judge’s Rape Allegations

Punto Fijo, December 3rd, 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Various statements from inmates and state officials have cast doubt on the allegations by Venezuelan Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni that she was raped while in prison two years ago. Venezuelan authorities say the new allegations are part of a media campaign against the Chavez government.

The case has become famous in recent years after Afiuni was arrested in 2009 and accused of corruption and abuse of power for releasing from jail a banker accused of corruption and the theft of more than US$25 million. The banker, Eligio Cedeño, immediately fled to the United States where he has been sheltered from prosecution, angering Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who called for the judge who freed him to be prosecuted.

Last week the case took a new turn when Afiuni alleged in a newly published book by opposition journalist Francisco Olivares that she had been raped while in jail in 2010. However, authorities and fellow inmates at the jail have cast doubt on the allegations.

“If that [rape] really happened, she would have said something that same day. She knows the procedures and knows that after two years doctors cannot tell if she was raped or not,” said one fellow inmate on state television channel VTV.

In addition to the rape, the judge alleges that she was impregnated by the rape and had a miscarriage while in jail. She also alleges to have been the victim of a knife attack.

However, her fellow inmates questioned that she could have been pregnant, saying that the judge, who was 46 years old at the time, often complained of having hot flashes, a sign of menopause. They also doubted that she had ever been victim of any knife attack.

“There was only one time where she made a complaint. They entered her cell and checked her, and there was nothing out of the ordinary. We all signed a document confirming that nothing had been done to her,” a fellow inmate said.

State authorities also doubted that any such attacks could have happened while the judge was at the women’s prison, citing the special treatment given to her by prison authorities, and the frequent visits by state officials.

“I met with her every week, we talked, and since her case was so politicized we treated her with care so as to avoid her imprisonment from turning into a media circus,” said the state public defender Raiza Bastardo.

“They granted her special visits all the time. She had many friends, lawyers, judges, investigators, and other people who came to visit her and could freely enter the prison,” one inmate said.

The public defender also pointed out that Afiuni had been in a cell alone, in a restricted area of the prison that had been set up to receive cases such as police officers, judges, and attorneys that could be at-risk in the general prison population.

The state television channel VTV interviewed several inmates last week who confirmed that the judge had received special treatment, and that she did not have contact with officials from the National Guard, who presumably would have been responsible for the rape given that the women’s prison has an all-female staff.

“The only contact she had with officials from the National Guard was when they did the roll call, a routine procedure in which I was usually present to guarantee everything was carried out normally,” said Bastardo.

Minister of Prison Services Iris Varela called the accusations a “lie” and questioned the credibility of the former judge.

“At no time was that woman sexually violated. We have the testimony of her fellow inmates from the women’s prison. Why should we believe Afiuni’s story and not believe the people who were with her and served her at the prison? Who is more credible?” she said.

Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega assured that an investigation into the rape allegation would be carried out, and called on Afiuni to file a formal complaint. However, on Friday the ex-judge refused to cooperate with the investigation, citing fears that the state would prosecute her for making a false complaint.

“They want Afiuni and her lawyers to file a complaint so that they can open an investigation and show that there was no crime, and then accuse her of making a false accusation,” said defense attorney Thelma Fernández.

“We aren’t going to play that game,” she said.

Under house arrest since 2011, Afiuni has boycotted all of her court hearings, causing her trial to be at a standstill for more than a year. However, the trial finally began last Friday in the judge’s absence.

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for Afiuni to be released, and have condemned her trial as being under “undue political interference” after President Hugo Chavez made several sharp comments about the judge on national television and asked for her to receive the maximum sentence.

The Venezuelan opposition claims that President Chavez personally ordered the judge to be imprisoned, even though his comments came the day after she had already been arrested. The former judge was arrested immediately after having facilitated the release and flight of Eligio Cedeño on December 10th, 2010.

Venezuelan authorities insist that the case has nothing do with human rights, and is being used for political purposes both nationally and internationally.

“In this country any crime that is committed by any person is immediately qualified as a political persecution in order to weaken the investigation,” said Varela.

Published on Dec 3rd 2012 at 6.02pm