Venezuelan Judge Who Angered Chávez Says She Was Raped While in Prison
By MARÍA EUGENIA DÍAZ and WILLIAM NEUMAN
CARACAS, Venezuela — An arrested judge at the center of one of Venezuela’s most prominent human rights cases was raped while in prison and then had an abortion behind bars after becoming pregnant, according to the judge’s lawyer and a book published last week in Caracas that has stirred new controversy around the case.
The judge, María Lourdes Afiuni, was imprisoned in December 2009 after one of her rulings angered President Hugo Chávez. Human rights activists say her jailing was arbitrary and shows the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela.
Ms. Afiuni’s lawyer, José Amalio Graterol, on Monday confirmed the account of the rape, which he said occurred in 2010 in a women’s prison outside Caracas. He said other women in the prison had also been abused.
Mr. Graterol said Mr. Chávez was informed of the rape in 2010. “Neither the president personally nor the government did anything,” Mr. Graterol said. “The mistreatment of Ms. Afiuni continued.”
He said she had been cut with blades and burned with cigarette butts. The rape was not made public earlier for fear that doing so would be psychologically harmful to Ms. Afiuni, he said, adding that the decision to reveal it now was an act of courage.
Government officials accused Ms. Afiuni of making up the rape allegation for political reasons. They also said she received special privileges while in prison because of her position as a judge.
Isabel González, a former director of the prison where Ms. Afiuni was held, called for an investigation, which she said would prove the rape claim was false, according to the government-run Venezuelan News Agency.
Ms. González, who is now a regional prison director, said she would seek a criminal libel proceeding. She said the claim was part of an attempt to discredit the Venezuelan government and “generate the impression that in Venezuela human rights are constantly being violated,” the news agency reported.
“We have nothing to fear,” Ms. González said.
Ms. Afiuni was arrested after she allowed the release of a businessman charged with subverting currency controls. She said that the man, Eligio Cedeño, had been held in prison while awaiting trial longer than Venezuelan law generally permitted, and that her ruling complied with a recommendation by United Nations human rights monitors.
Incensed, Mr. Chávez demanded on national television that Ms. Afiuni be given a 30-year prison sentence. But she has refused to cooperate in her case and has been held in pretrial detention for almost three years. Last year, she was moved to house arrest in Caracas because of medical problems.
Ms. Afiuni, 49, had previously told reporters that her life was threatened in prison, but the report of the rape was not made public before. The book, “The Comandante’s Prisoner,” by Francisco Olivares, a Venezuelan journalist, was written in cooperation with Ms. Afiuni and based on interviews with her.
The American intellectual and leftist Noam Chomsky, whose writings Mr. Chávez has applauded, is among those who have appealed for Ms. Afiuni’s release.
Ms. Afiuni’s trial, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, has repeatedly been postponed, often because she refused to enter the courtroom. But a new criminal code approved this year by Mr. Chávez could clear the way for Ms. Afiuni to be tried in absentia should she refuse again to take part.
“I’m in this hell because I had the temerity to do my job as a judge in a way that didn’t please Chávez,” Ms. Afiuni said in an interview in 2010.
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