Photo: La Tribuna, retrieved.

“This case is unique and unprecedented in the nation, due to the pattern of violations, the sexual element, the coverup and the criminal liabilities of the officers and their superiors.”

On July 20th, 2017, I thought I had seen evil. While this crime was happening, I was probably checking my Twitter account, full of images of the crackdown on citizens who had been protesting all over Venezuela since April that year. Maybe I was in a march, confronting fear and tear gas, or sitting at home, listening to the roar of chavista colectivos on their bikes.

I was way safer than the 20-year-old man who was detained by the National Police on his way to a protest, and taken to a makeshift prison in a facility of public electric company CORPOELEC in Maracaibo. He was beaten and sexually tortured by at least 10 officers and taken to a military court five days later, blatantly violating due process because, first, he’s a civilian and, second, the law establishes a maximum of 48 hours between an arrest and a preliminary hearing. Still, that young man had the courage to denounce his ordeal to a judge that sent him to prison anyway, his victimizers walking scot-free…

At least until now.

He was beaten and sexually tortured by at least 10 officers and taken to a military court five days later, blatantly violating due process.

“It wasn’t just rape, it was sexual torture: a human rights violation because it was committed by active state security forces,” says María Inés Hernández, spokeswoman for the Human Rights Commission of Zulia State (CODHEZ), responsible for the young man’s defense.

“Any detainee must be immediately taken to a detention center to establish the responsibility of his well-being under custody. The order to use CORPOLEC offices already violates due process, and that order was given by ranking officers who are fully identified but weren’t indicted,” she explains.

The case was postponed seven times in 2018 for reasons like blackouts or not notifying the victim. In CODHEZ, they don’t think this is a coincidence, because, “what’s the goal? To make the victim abandon the process.”

And this is precisely what makes the case noteworthy: the victim (who chose to remain anonymous) and his lawyers didn’t abandon their efforts, and several journalists reported the issue which “generated decisive pressure for the positive results obtained in the last hearing.”

Currently, there are eight officers imprisoned in the National Bolivarian Police unit in Sierra Maestra, San Francisco municipality; the other two fled and are now wanted by Interpol. Meanwhile, the case can’t advance to trial because the Prosecutor’s Office didn’t collect the evidence correctly.

On February 21st, the preliminary hearing was repeated and the charge of torture was dismissed, while the defendants, whose imprisonment was ratified, didn’t admit their responsibility. Files show over 20 people with forensic examinations that were also sexually abused and mistreated at the same time, date and place, but the Prosecutor’s Office didn’t include them in the process. Those victims and their families have received threats.

So, yes, I was lucky that day. Maybe the worst I got was tear gas or the distant horror that you perceive on a screen and not under the skin, like these people do now. Justice won’t erase what happened, but it’ll allow for healing… if we put enough pressure with them.

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