Two Venezuelan Officers Sentenced to 30-years Over In-Custody Death

Attorney General Tarek William Saab said that the conviction and sentencing demonstrated Venezuela’s commitment to human rights.

Building that reads "Ministerio Público"
Venezuela’s Office of the Attorney General in Caracas.

Mexico City, Mexico, February 7, 2022 ( – Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced that two members of the armed forces implicated in the in-custody death of retired Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo were sentenced to 30 years in prison.

On Sunday, Saab stated that the National Prosecutor’s Office sought the heavy sentences after Lieutenant Antonio Ascanio Tarascio Mejías and Sargent José Estiben Zárate Zoto were found guilty of “torture and qualified homicide” in the death of Acosta.

The country’s top prosecutor wrote on Twitter that the convictions and sentencing demonstrated Venezuela’s “commitment to full justice and punishment for those who violate human rights.”

The in-custody death of Arévalo in June 2019 drew international attention and was one of a number of high-profile cases cited before the International Criminal Court (ICC) as evidence of alleged human rights abuses by the Venezuelan state. Tarascio Mejías and Zárate Zoto were first only found guilty of “concausal preterintentional homicide” but the case was reopened in October 2020 upon orders of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. The pair were retried and found guilty of having practiced torture in addition to the crime of homicide during the interrogation of Acosta.

Progress in the investigation was previously cited in a report for the ICC prepared by Saab’s office as part of the government’s efforts to demonstrate its commitment to defend human rights and prosecute offenders.

Despite efforts to stave off a full-scale ICC investigation, the court’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan ultimately decided to open an investigation into alleged human rights abuses in Venezuela, signing a memorandum of understanding with the Nicolás Maduro government during a November visit to Caracas.

Acosta, who had retired from active service, had been arrested by Venezuela’s Military Counter-Intelligence Command (DGCIM) on charges of terrorism and sedition a week before his death, in connection to a purported coup plot. Tarascio Mejías and Zárate Zoto were affiliated with the DGCIM at the time of Arévalo’s death.

Alonso Medina Roa, the attorney representing the former navy captain’s family, said that the conviction and sentencing were a step forward but an insufficient one as they demand that the DGCIM chain of command also be investigated and put on trial.

“We have insisted that the chain of command be investigated, since the DGCIM is a military body attached to the Ministry of Defense, which means that any action carried out by subordinates is supervised by superior soldiers, so it is impossible to think that, beyond the two people convicted, nobody knew what happened to [Acosta],” Medina told reporters.

The attorney likewise called for an investigation into the allegedly negligent medical care provided by the military hospital personnel who treated Acosta Arévalo.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.