2 more years of house arrest for anti-Chavez judge

AP News
Posted: Dec 13, 2011 6:40 PM
2 more years of house arrest for anti-Chavez judge

Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday extended house arrest for a judge whose case has been strongly criticized by human rights groups.

Judge Ali Fabricio Paredes ruled that his colleague, Maria Lourdes Afiuni, must remain under house arrest for two more years, saying she has intentionally delayed her own trial by repeatedly refusing to enter a courtroom.

Afiuni faces corruption charges that were filed after she released a banker, saying he didn't need to be in jail while he awaited trial on accusations of violating foreign exchange controls.

In Venezuela, suspects are not released on bail. Instead, most suspects are whisked away to prison while they await trial.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega announced last week that she would ask a judge to extend Afiuni's house arrest.

Afiuni's relatives argued that the order keeping her under house arrest should be rescinded.

Government opponents, joined by some human rights groups, say Afiuni's case shows President Hugo Chavez's influence over Venezuela's judicial system _ a claim that Chavez denies.

One of Afiuni's lawyers, Jose Amalio Graterol, told Union Radio that the judge's legal representatives would appeal the ruling.

"Today's decision constitutes another blow to the rule of law in our country," Graterol said.

Afiuni's brother, Nelson Afiuni, said relatives did not expect a favorable outcome of the appeal.

"We don't expect much because this country's justice system is biased," he said during a telephone interview. "Most prosecutors and judges respond to the interests of the government, and it's clear the government wants my sister to remain isolated."

The judge infuriated Chavez when she freed the banker from prison where he was awaiting trial on charges of flouting the country's currency exchange controls.

Afiuni was arrested after she released banker Eligio Cedeno, who had been in jail awaiting trial on charges of violating currency controls. Cedeno fled the country shortly following his release.

A day after her arrest, Chavez said on national TV that he had discussed Afiuni's actions with the president of the Supreme Court.

Chavez vehemently denies the charges of interference, while human rights activists say Afiuni's case stands out because she is being prosecuted for a routine ruling and because Chavez intervened.

Amnesty International, joined by several Venezuelan rights groups, is demanding her release.


Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ctoothaker