Military Intelligence Agencies Torture Dissidents’ Relatives

What’s Ariana’s crime? Having a family member thought to be plotting against the government. A new human rights low.

Photo: Notimérica retrieved

Last year was a nightmare for Ariana Granadillo.

A 21-year-old medical student from Río Chiquito, a rural community in Monagas, Ariana moved to Caracas for an internship. Her horror wasn’t just from the humanitarian crisis making everything harder for doctors and patients: she stayed at a family member’s home, a military officer that, turns out, is under investigation by the Venezuelan government for alleged conspiracy.

In February, agents from the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) took her away. In detention, officers taped folders to her head to block her vision, beat her, and touched her body, demanding info on the homeowner’s whereabouts. She was released two days later, without explanations.

In May, DGCIM agents detained her again without a judicial order, this time with her parents, at their own home in Miranda. Authorities kept them incommunicado for a week, keeping their whereabouts secret to Foro Penal lawyers, who took on the case.

Granadillo says that agents abused her to make her disclose the officer’s location. They put a bag over her head, tied her hands behind her back, and held her legs. When she told them she knew nothing, she says they pressed the bag on her head until she nearly passed out. They released her (and her parents) a week later, no charges again.

Charges finally came in July. Police officers took Granadillo off a bus in June, held her in jail, then transferred her to military intelligence HQ in Caracas. She was taken before a military court after a month of reclusion, and charged with instigating rebellion, according to Foro Penal. She was accused of having phone conversations with her relative’s wife, and receiving money from her. Granadillo told her lawyer that she had regular contact via phone with the wife while she lived in her home, and the only money she got was for expenses to care for the owners’ dogs.

She was conditionally released, but cannot leave the country and must check in with a judge every eight days.

Granadillo is not the only person being put through hell by authorities, just because they are related to suspects of conspiracy or rebellion.

In a recent report by Human Rights Watch and Foro Penal, we analyzed information about 32 people. Not only are intelligence agents detaining and torturing members of the military who are suspected of rebellion, they’re also going after their families and other acquaintances.

In most cases, members of DGCIM or the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) carried out the arrests. Victims include military officers of various ranks and civilians accused of collaborating with Oscar Pérez, the rogue police officer killed after throwing an alleged grenade from a helicopter at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice building. In some cases, family members, including offspring, parents, or partners of suspects, were detained to find out where an alleged plotter was.

Detainees were beaten, asphyxiated, the soles of their feet cut with razor blades, given electric shocks, deprived of food, forbidden to go to the bathroom, and even threatened with death. Several didn’t have access to their families or lawyers for days. During detention in prisons or military intelligence headquarters, they lacked adequate medical treatment.

The crimes they’re accused of include “treason” and “instigating rebellion;” their lawyers say the charges are fabricated and not supported by any real evidence. Human Rights Watch asked the Venezuelan government to describe the basis of these charges, and the evidence it had against the suspects, and received no response.

These aren’t isolated cases. They’re part of a widespread abuse pattern by Venezuelan security forces, that we’ve documented since 2014, thousands of arrests, with cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, all against real and imagined government opponents. There are also at least 31 torture cases.

Impunity for these abuses is deliberate, so Granadillo (and others) won’t find justice at home. Since those responsible for these aberrations are more likely to be rewarded than punished in Venezuela, it’s key to explore avenues available to hold them accountable abroad.