What the government is doing to Judge María Lourdes Afiuni staggers the mind. No other single story captures Venezuela’s slide to dictatorship quite like her’s.
Jailed summarily simply for doing her job, Judge Afiuni was sent to Los Teques Women’s Penitentiary, where she’s in the extraordinarily dangerous situation of having to wait for trial surrounded by violent offenders, including several whom she herself sentenced.
For her first two weeks in Los Teques, her jail cell there didn’t have a lock on the door, leaving her terrifyingly exposed to some of the most dangerous, violent women in Venezuela. At one point, her fellow inmates tried to set her on fire – literally. Her relatives get threatened with a similar fate each time they try to visit her. These days, she is in virtual solitary confinement: too scared to leave her 25 square foot cell.
The ironies pile up fast with this case. Judge Afiuni was jailed after she had the temerity to order the release of another political prisoner. Afiuni released Eligio Cedeño because the state was way past its legal deadline for launching a trial against him, so he’d been sitting in jail for over two years merely waiting for his day in court.
That was three months ago. Judge Afiuni’s been sitting in jail ever since, waiting for her preliminary hearing. By law (COPP Article 330) the priliminary hearing must be held no later than 20 days after the Public Prosecutor files formal charges. Judge Afiuni was charged on January 26th. It’s been almost two months since then…but her prelim keeps getting delayed because…well, just because.
Remember, sitting in jail surrounded by violent offenders she put there, Judge Afiuni’s life is at serious risk every single day the state stalls. Considering the circumstances that brought her to jail in the first place, what judge would risk joining her by ordering her release?
Update: It’s a staggering thought but, apparently, Judge Afiuni tweets! So that’s my answer to those of you wondering who to write to…write to her! She needs every bit of encouragement we can send her.