Torture in Revolution

By Francisco Olivares

El Universal- Published April 20th, 2014

One of the most dramatic situations suffered by those detained in the protests over the last two months, has been the “physical and mental suffering” that most of them have undergone with “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that fits the definition of torture “. This is highlighted in a report by the Centre for Human Rights of the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB).

The UCAB conducted in-depth interviews on a group of 30 detainees, 27 of whom were students. The interviews were carried out between February 24th and March 7th in Caracas and in another region of the Miranda State. The questionnaire that was used follows the international standards for human rights violation.

Although the interviews were conducted on 30 of the more than 2000 detained, stories from all over the country where there have been protests indicate that it is a common practice.

The testimonies collected by the UCAB, as well as other media and human rights organizations, highlight “the existence of repression patterns and of the control of public order, contrary to the proportional use of force and the basic guarantees of any individual subjected to any form of detainment, as well as the basic standards to prevent torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment” said the report.

Punches and aggressions

According to the UN Convention Against Torture, torture is defined as: “any intentionally inflicted action on a person that causes severe pain or suffering, be it physical or mental, for the purpose of obtaining from him/her – or a third party – information or a confession, to punish him/her for an act that the person has committed, or to intimidate or pressure that person or others, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by a public officer, or another person exercising public functions, by their own instigation, or with their consent”.

The type of physical abuse that was most frequently reported among the respondents was being punched and kicked. A third of these actions took place while they were being transported after detainment and especially in the prisons of the GNB (Bolivarian National Guard) and CICPC (Centre for Criminal Research). It is important to highlight that most detainees were isolated for at least 48 hours before they could contact a family member. The reported aggressions were also performed with the butt of weapons, as Joaquín Sumalla recounts: “I was beaten by 5 or 6 officers; I was hit seven times in the head with the butt of the guns”.

Although not included in the report, there have been numerous cases of this type of violence reported across the country. The most widely spread was the aggression received by Marvinia Jimenez, who was attacked by an officer with the helmet. Jorge Luis León Valencia´s glasses were smashed in his eyes and he was run over by a motorcycle. Edberg Cantillo, arrested on February 28th, was run over by a motorcycle and then beaten by many with batons in the back and head until he was unconscious. On the way to the 52nd Precinct of the GNB, they awoke him with electric shocks and then completed their actions by beating him with helmets.

Kneeling without food

Once in detention, some reported having spent the night out in the open without ingesting any food or water. Out of the respondents, 11 indicated that they were forced to kneel on a sewer drain grill for long periods of time. Such was the case of Angel González who reported that he was left kneeling on a grill for five hours, even though he suffers from an injury on of his knees. If they turned around or moved they were beaten up. Other female officers stepped on the fingers of those detained with their high heels.

Several detainees reported the use of chemicals on them, such as pepper spray and fuel. The story of Damián Martín gives faith of this. Martín was captured by the CICPC and tells how they sprayed pepper spray in his face and was beaten with helmets on the way to the police office in Parque Carabobo. Once he arrived, the officers made a line and each one took turns to hit him and yell at him “you damn oppositionist!” “You think you are so fucking brave, you little shit!” One of them kicked him in the stomach and left him almost unconscious. Then they put him in a room and a tall, burly officer punched him in the face and then another did the same. He ended up vomiting due to the gas and punches, while being mocked by the officers.

Gasoline and kerosene

Other cases reported the use of substances such as gasoline, kerosene and gunpowder to incriminate them. Nelson Gil states that the officers selected a group to incriminate for the burning of a patrol. “We were taken one by one to a room”. There, an officer held him while another one sprayed his hands with gasoline and ordered him to clean them on his pants. Marco Coello was made to kneel; his hands were sprinkled with gunpowder and later they did a ballistics test on him. Coello was arrested on February 12th and is still behind bars.

Luis Boada was forced to kneel with his face covered, they poured gasoline all over his body and threatened to burn him.

Techniques that leave no trace

Torture techniques that live no trace have also been used. Marco Coello reports that while on his knees, he was presented with a statement already written up by the officers and was told to “sign this statement that says you are responsible for the burning of the patrols”. When he refused to sign the statement they threatened to hit him again. Because he refused, they took him handcuffed to a dark room and wrapped his body in foam. They beat him up with bats, golf clubs and a fire extinguisher. He was also given three electric shocks and kicked. All these actions were done by seven officers. The testimony is in the report of the UCAB.

The report highlights that many of the physical consequences of the pain, as well as bruises and wounds, remained visible during the interviews, even though they were held more than 10 days after the tortures occurred, which for the authors of the report evidences the infliction of physical suffering meant to cause pain or grief; whether their purpose was to obtain information, to intimidate or to pressure the detainees.

Psychological abuse

Among the 30 detainees interviewed by the experts from the UCAB, it was found that seven of them were threatened with sexual abuse, four of them were male and three female, one of which was a minor.

The journalist Andrea Jiménez was threatened with rape, mutilation of her limbs, death and that they would take her to the INOF (Female prison) were she would be raped anyway. Lisset Francis was not only threatened to be shot, but her captors also made threats of sexual harassment by referring to her as “fresh meat”. The minor, whose name is confidential, was threatened with rape and being killed. The minor was not allowed to have any contact with her lawyers until a few hours before the hearing.

Some were forced to hear the punches and the screaming coming from adjacent rooms where other people were being tortured. Pierluigi Di Silvestre was arrested with his three children, and forced to witness how officers from the GNB beat up his children.

As a way of intimidation and to blackmail the detainees from reporting the violation of their rights, they received threats such as “We could do something to you in the future”; “Don´t say anything, I have the keys to your house and I know where you live”; “Be careful on the streets, we will be following you.”
Original Source: Olivares, Francisco. “Torturas en Revolución”. April 20th, 2014. El Universal. April 26th, 2014.

Main photograph: EFE / MIGUEL GUTIÉRREZ

Translated by #infoVnzla