Photo: @AbgMCrovato

The last few days have been hectic for human rights lawyer Marcelo Crovato, his wife and two children: over the weekend, he crossed the border to Colombia and reunited with his family. He left without telling his parents and friends, afraid for his life. Almost four years of unfair imprisonment ended when they finally arrived at the Buenos Aires International Airport.

“It was a huge emotion to know that we were already here (in Buenos Aires), that my freedom was complete and security is total for me and my family,” he said to La Nación.

Marcelo Crovato’s ordeal started in 2014, when he worked as a human rights lawyer for NGO Foro Penal Venezolano. During the protests in April that year, a neighbor asked him for help, as the authorities raided homes in Chacao. He was detained and later charged with broad crimes like “public instigation to commit crimes,” “obstruction of public roads” and “disobeying laws”.

Crovato was sent to Yare III prison, in which he lost 35 kilograms and slept on the floor side by side with common criminals. Depression settled in, to the point where he tried to kill himself. Ten months later, he was given house arrest, but his legal nightmare would continue.

Fellow Caracas Chronicles collaborator Manuel Llorens wrote about Crovato’s situation back in October of 2016. His trial had been deferred thirty-two times, and his home was even robbed (the police officer assigned to his custody was beat up and lost her firearm).

After two years of being detained in Venezuela without proper sentence, by law, I should have been released, but the court ignored that.

Crovato’s case has received attention by human rights group Amnesty International: Mariela Belski, executive director of AI Argentina’s chapter, wrote an article about him last year. The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has also taken a look at his case in this letter from November 2017, where they ask the Bolivarian Republic for additional information.

Since Crovato’s mother is Argentinean, his legal situation got into the local political agenda: earlier this year, a group of legislators led by Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann (current head of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Chamber of Deputies) asked Venezuela to give the lawyer “humanitarian measures”. When news of the escape broke, Schmidt showed her public support on Twitter, and Crovato himself replied.

Crovato explained to La Nación that “we got out because we knew that in Venezuela I would never have justice. For example, the first hearing on my case should have been held sixty days after my arrest and, almost four years in, it hasn’t happened. After two years of being detained in Venezuela without proper sentence, by law, I should have been released, but the court ignored that.”

The legal limbo, along with the sadness of not providing for his family and not having medicines to treat his skin cancer forced his hand. He planned in secret for months, leaving everyone in the dark for their own protection. In the end, it all went well.

Crovato and his family will now start over in Argentina, but he still deserves acquittal of those questionable (and now void) charges. Sadly, other Venezuelan political prisoners face the same ordeal he did, like National Assembly Deputy Gilber Caro.

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