Political prisoners: Race and Equality organizes a forum to contribute to the effective approach to detention and imprisonment for political reasons in the region


Washington DC, June 17, 2022.- Race and Equality organized a forum to contribute to the effective approach to arrest and imprisonment for political reasons in the Western Hemisphere and proposed guidelines that allow establishing criteria to determine who is a person detained for political reasons. “At the institute, this process began about a year and […]

Washington DC, June 17, 2022.- Race and Equality organized a forum to contribute to the effective approach to arrest and imprisonment for political reasons in the Western Hemisphere and proposed guidelines that allow establishing criteria to determine who is a person detained for political reasons.

“At the institute, this process began about a year and a half ago, a little worried about the need to have criteria for a person to be considered a political prisoner in the hemisphere,” said the director of Race and Equality, Carlos Quesada.

The director for the Americas of Amnesty International, Ericka Guevara Rosas highlighted the similarities that exists in the violations of human rights committed against people arbitrarily deprived of liberty for political reasons in countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela where there is a “co-optation of the Powers of the State”.

Guevara participated in the event “Political Prisoners: Challenges and Proposals for their International Protection from a Human Rights Approach”, organized by the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), in order to create a space for reflection on the characteristics that must exist for a person to be considered arbitrarily deprived of liberty for political reasons in a country.

Guevara highlighted that there is a pattern between Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, for example, in which journalists and human rights activists who oppose certain state policies are criminalized and therefore become targets of the state that creates laws and uses the Powers of the State to prosecute them.

“People are detained through the improper use of the criminal justice system and through the deprivation of liberty, which, many times, is not only given in prison conditions, but many times we have seen patterns of deprivation of liberty through short-term arrests, detentions and house arrests,” said Guevara.

“They tried to gouge out his eyes”

Miriam Cardet, sister of former political prisoner Eduardo Cardet, from Cuba, recalled at the event how her relative was detained on November 30, 2016, when, after returning from a trip to the United States, he was intercepted by men dressed in civilian clothes, in his home, who began to beat him savagely.

“They pounced on him, putting him against a fence in front of the house and beat him (…) They tried to gouge out his eyes,” Cardet said in her account. That was just the beginning of the problems for the family and the human rights violations against the Cuban doctor and activist.

He was missing for five days until a protest by relatives forced the Cuban government authorities to show him halfway, when he could barely stand and was swollen from the beating he received.

Cardet was released in May 2019, after serving the three-year sentence for which he had been charged.

“Through all the denunciations at the international level, my brother’s life could be saved,” said Cardet, recalling that the denunciation and the constant pressure against these States is the only way to guarantee the lives of these people.

10 deaths under the tutelage of the Venezuelan State

In Venezuela, it is estimated that since 2014 there have been at least 4,000 people imprisoned for political reasons after participating in demonstrations against the government of Nicolás Maduro. At least 10 of them have died under the tutelage of the State, according to figures from human rights organizations.

“In the case of Venezuela, a structure has been created and arbitrary detention is not the only violation that is used, a judicial structure has been created, an administrative and legislative structure has been created that what it seeks is to close civic space more every time,” said Ronnie Boquier, legal coordinator of the Committee of Family Victims of the Caracazo.

The situation there is quite similar to what is happening in Cuba and Nicaragua, where crimes of terrorism against peaceful demonstrators are invented and ambiguous crimes such as “treason against the homeland” are attributed to them.

Nicaragua and the criminalization of human rights defenders

The criminalization of human rights defenders and the cancellation of non-governmental organizations that are not related to the Daniel Ortega regime has caused more than 500 NGOs to no longer have legal status, according to Nicaraguan media reports.

These closures are only part of the problem, because after their legal operating capacity is canceled, persecution is unleashed against their leaders, who in many cases are forced to leave the country or detained.

The arbitrary arrests in Nicaragua began in April 2018, after the peaceful demonstrations and until May 2020, the IACHR calculated that at least 1,614 people were in prison, highlighted Fiorella Melzi, coordinator of the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (Meseni).

“As a result of the arrests, the Commission has observed a series of human rights violations: violations of guarantees and judicial protection, in most cases, initially, the State did not report the whereabouts of the detained persons and (prevented), the access to a lawyer of choice, the accusations presented in preliminary, private and secret hearings in facilities other than the judicial courts”, Melzi listed.

Some were later released, but the criminalization of dissidents continued and spread to all sectors of the country. At the point prior to the 2021 presidential elections, when Daniel Ortega was fraudulently re-elected for a fourth consecutive term, he imprisoned 7 presidential candidates and until May 31, 2022, the number of people arbitrarily deprived of liberty for political reasons in the country was already more than 190, according to figures updated for May from the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners in Nicaragua.

Many of these people were directors of non-governmental organizations or were simply arrested for expressing opinions contrary to the regime’s policies on social networks.

“New crimes are created, laws against terrorism that involve people who defend rights in the logic that the State will always classify them as an enemy and they are joined with past laws,” said Boquier, who explained about the similarities that occur in the three countries when persecuting dissidence.

These are policies that, according to Boquier, the States themselves are defining and he blamed them for being the ones who classify people as “enemies”, to later arbitrarily detain them for the activities they carry out.

“Whoever defines the policy of persecution are the States and whoever gives it the political motives are the States. Prisoners for political reasons in our countries (exist) because the States consider them that way because of their activity,” he remarked.

Race and Equality proposes guidelines to determine the deprivation of liberty for political reasons

Considering all these situations that occur in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, but also extend to countries such as Chile or Colombia, Race and Equality published the document “Guidelines for the determination of detention and imprisonment for political reasons: Contributions from International Law of Human Rights”, which seeks to contribute to a discussion that leads to identifying and highlighting the patterns that exist in the countries that detain people for political reasons.

The document highlights the importance of having a characterization at the international level that allows recognizing that people under this form of deprivation of liberty are more exposed to suffering serious violations of their human rights and therefore, are in a situation of special vulnerability. This recognition makes it possible to hold States accountable for these arbitrary deprivations of liberty for political reasons and to create a route of responsibility that allows justice and reparation for the victims.

Race and Equality proposes two guidelines. The first consists of establishing whether the deprivation of liberty is arbitrary according to the categories established by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. That is, that it occurs as a consequence of the exercise of rights or freedoms of thought, conscience and religion; opinion and expression; peaceful assembly and association; and political participation; and that it is discriminatory for reasons such as political opinion.

Secondly, it is pointed out that it is essential for this determination to identify that the arbitrary deprivation of liberty is the product of politically biased State actions, for which the patterns of detention and instrumentalization of justice institutions in contexts must be examined, both democratic and authoritarian, as well as the actions carried out by the person, such as the defense of human rights, participation in the political life of their country, journalism, among others. 

The complete document can be downloaded at this link for the Spanish version and at this other link for the English version.

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