Venezuela security forces punish anti-Maduro protesters: Amnesty

Rights group says dozens were killed during five days of protests in January and 900 people were arrested.

    Venezuela security forces punish anti-Maduro protesters: Amnesty
    Opposition supporters take part in a rally to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro [File: Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

    Fast Facts

    • Latest round of protests began in January after Maduro was sworn in for a second term
    • US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on January 23
    • Maduro accuses US and Guaido of staging coup
    • According to the Venezuelan organisation Foro Penal, 988 people were arbitrarily detained between January 21 and 31.

    Venezuelan security forces executed several people and arbitrarily detained hundreds of others in a campaign to punish people who protested against President Nicolas Maduro, human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

    In a report titled "Hunger, punishment and fear, the formula for repression in Venezuela", Amnesty said dozens died during five days of protests from January 21 to January 25, almost all from gunshot wounds, and 900 people were arrested.

    Amnesty called on the UN Human Rights Council to take action to address the "total impunity that prevails in Venezuela" by creating an independent investigative body to report on the human rights situation.

    The latest round of protests began after opposition leader Juan Guaido called on Venezuelans to demand a change in government after Maduro began a second term following a vote last year that was widely considered fraudulent.

    On January 23, Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency. Maduro accuses Guaido of leading a US-directed coup against him.

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    "The authorities under Nicolas Maduro are trying to use fear and punishment to impose a repulsive strategy of social control against those who demand change," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty.

    "His government is attacking the most impoverished people that it claims to defend, but instead it murders, detains and threatens them."

    Venezuela's Information Ministry did not respond to a request to comment.

    Amnesty said state authorities carried out extrajudicial executions as a method of social control, mainly using the National Police's Special Actions Force (FAES) to target poor areas that had risen up against Maduro.

    The FAES has carried out dozens of deadly raids in recent weeks. The unit has said reports of abuses are "fake news" spread by right-wing opponents and their "struggle is against all criminals that ravage our communities".

    "The FAES is an elite unit, conformed [made out of] by members in the police and military members," said Rocio San Miguel, a Caracas-based expert on Venezuela's armed forces and director of NGO Control Ciudadano.

    "They tend to be violent, so they can produce the effect that Venezuela's government want, they want to criminalise, they want to be sufficiently exemplifying in its damage to generate fear within the society," she told Al Jazeera. 

    Amnesty said 41 people had died, mostly from gunshot wounds, in protests in late January. It said it had documented six extrajudicial executions by the FAES of young men linked to the protests.

    Amnesty recommended that prosecutors at the International Criminal Court should consider the facts in its report and possibly incorporate them in a preliminary examination already under way on Venezuela.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies