Venezuelan Judge Afiuni Awarded Conditional Release

On Friday Judge Maria Afiuni was released, with conditions, from house arrest. Though she is being tried for corruption and conspiracy, the opposition, corporate media, and organisations such as Amnesty International, have labelled her a “political prisoner” and are calling her release a “victory”.

By Tamara Pearson

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Maria Lourdes Afiuni in her home where she was under house arrest since February 2011 (El Universal)
Maria Lourdes Afiuni in her home where she was under house arrest since February 2011 (El Universal)
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Merida, June 18th 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Friday Judge Maria Afiuni was released, with conditions, from house arrest. Though she is being tried for corruption and conspiracy, the opposition, corporate media, and organisations such as Amnesty International, have labelled her a “political prisoner” and are calling her release a “victory”.

Afiuni was arrested in December 2009, and has been under house arrest since February 2011. Her trial began in November.

The conditions she is subject to are; reporting every two weeks to court, prohibition from leaving the country and from talking to the media. According to El Universal, she is also prohibited from publishing on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, something her defence is evaluating and have said they could appeal.

Afiuni’s lawyer, Jose Graterol said the latter condition “violates her privacy”, “removes her from society” and goes against her “freedom of expression”.

El Universal also reported that Afiuni will make a legal claim for her position as judge, as well as lost earnings for the 3.5 years she was in prison and under house arrest.

Public prosecutors arrested and charged Afiuni for conspiracy after she allegedly changed the conditions of an arrest warrant. The warrant was for Eligio Cedeno, former president of two banks, charged with stealing US$27 million from the state currency administration body, CADIVI. Afiuni’s alleged act allowed Cedeno to flee Venezuela. Afiuni allegedly made the change illegally; in an unannounced hearing and without notifying the public prosecutor.

Journalist James Suggett argued that her arrest reflected “the government’s efforts to establish the rule of law in the historically corrupt banking sector and justice system”.

Opposition representatives and international corporate press however have labelled Afiuni a “political prisoner, arguing that she was arrested for having displeased the late President Hugo Chavez, and that her arrest was part of his efforts to “control” the judiciary and “silence dissent”.

Christian Science Monitor reported her release as a “victory for human rights and Venezuela’s political opposition”. The Monitor also reported that a Venezuelan constitutional law professor, Jose Haro, argued that Afiuni’s release wouldn’t “have happened under Chavez... [President Nicolas] Maduro is still crafting his image. The release helps to show him as being pragmatic and bolsters his claim of legitimacy”.

However, according to Afiuni’s lawyer, it was a Caracas court which made the decision to release the judge. As in most countries, the Venezuelan president does not have authority over the courts. The court rescinded the judge’s house detention on health grounds, after a request to do so from the public prosecutor. According to media agencies, Afiuni has been suffering kidney problems.