When SEBIN becomes a problem for chavismo

In the Venezuelan justice system, people are represented by three separate yet equally important groups: Prosecutors and Judges, who handle the entire process and intelligence officers, who like to meddle with it.

TheVenezuelan Judiciary is now facing a whole new level of direct interference, courtesy of our beloved intelligence agency known as SEBIN [Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia]. The last two weeks have seen several cases where pressure from SEBIN agents against judges and prosecutors to comply with them.

SEBIN agents came to the court and threatened the judge with arrest if she didn’t change her decision.

This week, Karla Moreno resigned as judge of the 39th Control Tribunal of Caracas after rejecting the detention of three men arrested by SEBIN during last Saturday’s protest by opposition party Voluntad Popular. Their alleged crime? Documenting the demonstration with a drone. Because the government banned the use of drones for that purpose and SEBIN has acted in consequence.

The two drone operators and the producer faced a formal hearing on Monday, but Moreno ruled that the three men should be released. SEBIN agents came to the court and threatened the judge with arrest if she didn’t change her decision. Instead, she quit her post publicly and then left the Justice Palace. The case was later taken by another court. BTW, the apprehended producer is also a tribunal employee and his colleagues are not happy with that, even threatening a work stoppage.

But this doesn’t quite compare to what happened last week in Barcelona, when SEBIN agents took over the local court palace and detained two Public Ministry prosecutors for not validating the arrest of the manager of PetroCedeño, a company partnership between PDVSA, France’s Total and Norway’s Statoil. (That explains why one of the main links comes from Norwegian Wikipedia).

The prosecutors indicated the detentions didn’t occurr in fraganti nor did they have a valid court order to carry out the apprehensions, violating due process. The judge still complied with SEBIN’s request under alleged coercion . Then the two prosecutors were held for refusing to cooperate, provoking the full solidarity of their fellow prosecutors, including the Chief Prosecutor of Anzoategui State. They were released later.

Yesterday, a group of relatives of 18 people imprisoned held a demonstration in front of the Supreme Court, accusing the head of SEBIN (and former Interior Minister) Gustavo González López of refusing to comply with court-mandated releases. And seems like this is becoming a huge trend. Last month, a report from Runrun.es indicated the possible use of this practice for extortion.

As SEBIN keeps on seizing foreign journalists’ belongings and arresting rappers for “glorifying police murders”, the National Assembly just requested a hearing against the head of SEBIN (along with the Director-General of CONATEL). They will probably ignore these summons, just like all other Ministers have done in the past.