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Early Release Request for Perpetrator of Venezuelan 2002 Coup Violence Rejected

Mérida, 1st February 2013 ( – Venezuelan Vice-president Nicolas Maduro has publicly rejected an early release request for a jailed police commissioner convicted for his role in civilian killings during the short-lived 2002 coup against the Chavez government.

In April 2009 the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police of Caracas (PM), Ivan Simonovis, and eight other PM officers were convicted of homicide and assault perpetrated on April 11 2002, the day that the Venezuelan opposition launched a coup against President Hugo Chavez.

On that day nineteen people were killed and many wounded by snipers, as marches between the opposition and pro-Chavez forces clashed.

The political opposition erroneously blamed the violence on the Chavez government and used it as a pretext to depose the elected president and forcefully install businessman Pedro Carmona in his place. The coup was peacefully overturned two days later.

The trial of the PM officers lasted three years and heard 265 expert testimonies, 5,700 photos, 20 videos and 198 witnesses. Simonovis and two other officers were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

The convictions only related to the deaths of two of those killed, with the other seventeen assassinations remaining unsolved.

On Tuesday, family members of Simonovis requested of Vice-president Nicolas Maduro that he be released from prison early on health grounds.

The move came as the opposition seeks to reach an amnesty agreement with the government over what the opposition calls “political prisoners”, which includes those involved in the 2002 coup who have either been jailed or have fled the country to escape trial.

Yesterday Maduro rejected the request and said that Simonovis must serve out his full sentence. “As a government we continue seeking justice…the full force of the law has to fall on those responsible [for the violence on 11 April 2002], there cannot be impunity,” he stated.

He further said, “Humanism, yes…special conditions, yes they should be given, but justice must be completely fulfilled”.

He also criticised those in the opposition who still justify the events of the coup, “calling people who aren’t, ‘political prisoners’, people who were involved in a massacre of the people”.

The comments came after the vice-president held a meeting with the Association of Victims of the Coup D’état (ASOVIC), which recently aired concerns about a possible amnesty for Simonovis and others convicted of having a role in the coup violence.

After the meeting the lawyer for ASOVIC, Antonio Molina, said that legally Simonovis could only be considered for early release on health grounds if his illness was terminal, and that “from what we know, Simonovis suffers from osteoporosis…a controllable disease”.

Meanwhile, ASOVIC members said they would never accept an amnesty for those involved in the crimes of 11 April. “They [those convicted] are implicated in the violation of human rights…there are children who will never see their parents again,” said ASOVIC spokeswoman Yesenia Fuentes,

She further said that, “We don’t hate anyone, it’s simply that [Simonovis] has to pay for his guilt, an error, a crime that he committed 11 years ago”.

The Venezuelan opposition continues to maintain that Simonovis and the others convicted in April 2009 are innocent of any charges, and contests the government’s version of the events of 11 April 2002.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles responded to Maduro’s statement yesterday by declaring, “They made him [Simonovis] into a trophy of the events of April 2002. The commissioner is imprisoned without having committed a crime. We Venezuelans have never been able to know the truth about those responsible for the killings of 11 April”.

He also blamed authorities for “having involved the family members [of victims], to whom they gave the names of those supposedly responsible, that the whole country knows bear no responsibility”.

Capriles himself faced charges over his role in the April 2002 coup, where he was accused of participating in an attempt to storm the Cuban embassy in pursuit of fugitive Chavista officials. 

Published on Feb 1st 2013 at 11.00pm