Socialist International envoys prevented from visiting Leopoldo López in prison in Venezuela

15 November 2014

José Antonio Viera-Gallo, a prominent Chilean lawyer and socialist, with broad experience in public service in his country, where he has served as a parliamentarian, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Senator, Minister Secretary General of the Presidency, as well as Minister of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Chile, accompanied by the lawyer, Professor of Law at the University of Chile and collaborator of the Socialist International Secretariat, Claudio Herrera, are in Caracas from 13 to 16 November as representatives of the SI to gain information about the circumstances under which the leader of the Voluntad Popular party, Leopoldo López, continues to be imprisoned along with numerous other political prisoners, and to make representations for their early release.

Today, 15 November, the SI representatives tried to visit Leopoldo López, who has already spent nine months under arbitrary detention in the Military Prison of Ramo Verde. The envoys were accompanied by the wife and parents of the detained politician.

The prison authorities denied them access under the pretext that Leopoldo López was affected by a disciplinary measure that prevented him from receiving visitors because he, together with the other political prisoners, had hit their cell bars with their cutlery in protest at the lack of resolution by the judge assigned to their case to respond to the request for freedom made by the UN Special Group on Arbitrary Detention.

While access was being requested, Leopoldo López and his comrades lifted a written sign between the bars of their cells regarding their imprisonment and exchanged greetings with their families, highlighting the infringement of their rights. In reply, the guards sounded the siren of a military vehicle to silence their voices, provoking a deafening noise.

Faced with the impossibility of entering the prison, the SI special envoy José Antonio Viera-Gallo, declared the following to the members of the media who were present:

“Irrespective of the political situation in Venezuela, the SI has sent this mission to learn first-hand about the detention of Leopoldo López, which was qualified as arbitrary by the United Nations Special Group, calling on the Venezuelan authorities to release him”.

He regretted the decision of the court judge to deny the United Nations’ request for his release, and the impossibility of making direct contact with Leopoldo López. He also pointed out that this situation is a serious violation of human rights. “There is no reason whatsoever to keep Leopoldo López in prison. The charges against him have no legal basis. Neither are there any motives to justify the refusal of visitors”.

Viera-Gallo said that it would have been desirable to have been able to express the views of the SI directly to the authorities of the Venezuelan Government, for which numerous attempts were made at the highest level without any reply.

In addition, during their visit to Caracas the mission held meetings with the SI member parties, representatives of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática, the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference and other relevant actors in the public life of the country.

All these developments will be reported to the world Council of the Socialist International which will meet on 12-13 December in Geneva.