Rights groups report an escalation of repression in Venezuela leading up to the upcoming elections.

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Human rights groups are calling for the Venezuelan government to halt a crackdown on civil society after it jailed a prominent lawyer and then banished a UN human rights office from Caracas for criticising her arrest.

The detention of Rocío San Miguel, a 57-year-old lawyer and military specialist, has caused alarm among observers who believe that Venezuela is descending into a more oppressive state in an attempt to suppress opposition to the government before the upcoming elections.

After the UN human rights office expressed disapproval of San Miguel’s detention, the government instructed its employees to depart the country within 72 hours.

Valentina Ballesta, South America researcher for Amnesty International, stated that the removal of the UN high commissioner and his office is the government’s most recent effort to distance itself from global examination of its human rights track record. It is important for the international community to continue shedding light on this matter.

Rocío San Miguel

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On February 9th, San Miguel was detained at an airport near Caracas while attempting to travel to Miami for a vacation with her daughter.

For two days, her family had no knowledge of her location until they were told that she was being tried for supposedly planning to assassinate Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. Police also apprehended five of her family members, including two former partners.

The family of San Miguel claims that she has been denied the right to choose a lawyer to represent her in response to the accusations.

According to Gonzalo Himiob, a lawyer and founding member of Foro Penal, a non-governmental organization that monitors political prisoners, it was already a regular occurrence in Venezuela to restrict the ability to seek legal defense. However, there is now a new practice of isolating detainees from their families and lawyers, making it difficult for them to mount any defense.

The government of Venezuela has frequently utilized state institutions, specifically the courts and intelligence agencies, to suppress dissenting voices, especially since the country’s economic decline intensified in 2014.

The United Nations human rights council has charged Maduro and other high-ranking officials in Venezuela with committing acts of torture, abduction, and unlawful killings, which are considered crimes against humanity.

According to rights groups, the government has adopted a more concerning approach to restrict civic space as elections approach.

In addition to reportedly imprisoning critics under false terrorism charges, it is also said that the state is detaining their loved ones and associates.

A woman was subjected to torture and received a 30-year prison term for merely sharing a taxi with an individual who was allegedly involved in a conspiracy against the government.

Himiob stated that while the repression may have become more targeted, it is also becoming increasingly harsh.

Himiob stated that there was a “persistent and organized” state-media effort to support the allegations of conspiracy.

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Experts were taken aback by the apprehension of San Miguel. Her prominent status, Spanish citizenship, and global ties were previously believed to be enough to protect her from Maduro’s authoritarian regime.

San Miguel is recognized as a moderate political figure and is most renowned for her investigations revealing corruption within the Venezuelan military.

Phil Gunson, an analyst at International Crisis Group, stated that it is difficult to believe that Rocio should be implicated in this seemingly absurd plot to overthrow the government. He also believes that this is a tactic to intimidate civil society and show that anyone can be arrested without reason.

Experts are stating that Maduro is intensifying his attack on civil society in order to secure success in the “fair and open” elections that were promised to the opposition in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions.

In January, three assistants of the opposing leader María Corina Machado were detained for treason, while the supreme court, which is aligned with the government, enforced a restriction on Machado’s ability to run for office.

The Venezuelan congress is likely to approve a law in the near future that would regulate civil society organizations. UN investigators warn that this law could be a decisive step towards limiting civic and democratic participation in Venezuela.

Ballesta stated that the government is attempting to address the final remaining opposition.

Advocates are urging governments to condemn the detention of San Miguel and the eviction of the United Nations’ human rights office.

Last week, a spokesperson from the White House expressed concern over the arrest of San Miguel.

Source: theguardian.com

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