Rights watchdog: Activists harassed in Venezuela

AP News
Posted: Apr 15, 2011 7:51 PM
Rights watchdog: Activists harassed in Venezuela

Human rights activists find themselves under increasing attack by unidentified assailants and persecuted by state authorities in a growing climate of hostility against rights groups and non-governmental organizations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Friday.

In its annual report, the commission strongly condemned what it called "the use of state punishment to criminalize defenders of human rights in Venezuela," adding that prominent rights activists were unjustly arrested by state security forces last year while others were harassed and assaulted by supporters of President Hugo Chavez.

Such actions threaten the work of rights activists, warned the commission, which is a branch of the Organization of American States.

"The discrediting of such defenders and their human rights organizations, due to fear of possible reprisals, could prompt them to refrain from publicly voicing criticism of government policies," stated the report, which was completed in 2010 and released Friday.

Chavez denies cracking down on rights activists and claims international rights watchdogs, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have unfairly singled out his government for criticism due to political motivations. Some rights groups have sided with Venezuela's opposition, he argues, putting their credentials as rights defenders in doubt.

Telephone calls seeking comment from Information Minister Andres Izarra went unanswered on Friday.

Venezuelan-American lawyer and activist Eva Golinger said many of Venezuela's rights groups have lost credibility _ particularly among government officials and supporters _ "because of their ideological leanings."

"They are aligned with the opposition," Golinger said. "They have a very limited vision of human rights."

The report painted a different picture, finding numerous rights activists, including Marco Antonio Ponce, Robert Calzadilla and Rafael Uzcategui of the local Provea rights organization, had been illegally detained during peaceful protests.

Government supporters pelted with rocks Carlos Correa of Espacio Publico, another non-governmental organization, during a demonstration outside the National Assembly on Dec. 16, the report found.

Close allies of Chavez have slandered other activists during programs broadcast on state television, according to the report.

The hosts of two talk shows broadcast on state TV accused Rocio San Miguel, who heads Control Cuidadano, an organization that monitors security and defense issues, of acting as a CIA agent and attempting to spur a military rebellion.

"We're perceived by the government as opponents, and that's undoubtedly made our job more difficult," San Miguel said during a telephone interview.

San Miguel said she's been repeatedly harassed by gun-toting motorcyclists wearing ski masks, anonymous antagonists who have threatened her with physical violence over the telephone and assailants who attempted to assault her along a highway.

San Miguel denied that Control Cuidadano and other NGOs are unfairly singling out Chavez's administration, saying their only objective is calling attention to policies that violate human rights.

"All of this has been denounced at the prosecutor's office," she said, "and there hasn't been any investigation that's provided results."