As Venezuela descends deeper into crisis, the European Union has awarded its top human rights prize to the country\u2019s opposition and political prisoners. Euronews reporter Alberto de Filippis managed to enter Venezuela to speak to members of this opposition. Venezuela is at a crossroads. The country\u2019s economy has been ravaged by chronic inflation. In this deeply deeply polarised country, the opposition insists that the ruling socialists have destroyed not just the economy but also democratic institutions. The \u2018Chavistas\u2019 of President Nicol\u00e1s Maduro in turn accuse the opposition of being elitist and of exploiting Venezuela\u2019s poor. They allege opposition leaders are in the pay of the United States. But what about the people? For ordinary Venezuelans, there seems to be little trust in politicians anymore. Despite months of violent unrest and 120 deaths on the streets, Chavistas swept the board again in recent elections, taking 17 out of 23 governorships. Once more, the opposition cried foul. It\u2019s in this context that the EU has awarded Venezuela\u2019s opposition and political prisoners its prestigious Sakharov Prize for human rights. Venezuela's opposition awarded Sakharov Prize for championing human rights https://t.co/scyX3fagEv\u2014 Amnesty Ely City (@amnestyelycity) 26 octobre 2017 The European Parliament said it wanted to reward the courage of those fighting for freedom in the face of a repressive government. Peaceful dialogue Ram\u00f3n Guillermo Aveledo is one of the most respected figures of Venezuela\u2019s Democratic Unity coalition. He says he believes in peaceful dialogue, not because he is a pacifist, but because he knows the Chavistas are well armed. If the authorities let him out of the country, he will go to Strasbourg with other oppostion leaders to receive the Sakharov Prize. Alberto de Filippis, euronews: \u201cMr Aveledo, in terms of human rights in this country, what\u2019s the situation? Human right violations on the rise Ram\u00f3n Guillermo Aveledo, former Executive Secretary, Mesa de la Unidad Democr\u00e1tica: \u201cHuman rights violations are on the rise, not just when it comes to life or free speech, but also in terms of the right to health, which is another basic right. (He shows a report) This report written by the Human Rights Assembly at the Parliament tells everything. In this graph, we can see the increase in murders. We have a lot of different problems related to human rights violations in this country and all of them are on the rise.\u201d Euronews: \u201cSir, what does the Sakharov Prize mean for the Venezuelan opposition?\u201d Ram\u00f3n Guillermo Aveledo: \u201cIt means a lot to us and to the Venezuelan people. The Sakharov Prize has existed since 1988. When you look at previous winners (people and NGOs), you realize it\u2019s a list of human rights and social liberty fighters. And this already means a lot. Not to mention the fact that the people of Latin America have only been awarded on five occasions. And this is important. It shows how worried Europe is regarding the state of things in Venezuela. \u201cBut I would also underline that this is the very first time, in the history of this prize, that a public institution has been awarded. NGOs, ordinary people and also the press have won, but never a public body, like a parliament. This is very important because it shows that within the Venezuelan state there is a battle between those who protect the constitution, human rights and freedom, and those who attack these key things. It shows that the Venezuelan people are fighting for their freedom.\u201d Economic sanctions Euronews: \u201cIn the last few days the Venezuelan government has said there will be no dialogue if Washington does not lift the economic sanctions against Venezuela. What do US sanctions have to do with the political dialogue between Venezuelans?\u201d Ram\u00f3n Guillermo Aveledo: \u201cIt has nothing to do with this. Like other dictatorships, our government wants to make out that there isn\u2019t any confrontation between those in power and the people, but that the confrontation is between Venezuela and other countries. This is because Venezuela is obliged to respect international law, for instance human rights. It\u2019s the reason why there are sanctions against political officers and the Venezuelan government as a whole. \u201cBut Chavistas want to show that these sanctions are against the Venezuelan people instead. Chavistas have had to take responsibility for not respecting human rights. The sanctions are against specific public servants and members of the government. What the government is trying to do is wrap itself in the national flag in order to mix things up. They want to confuse personal interests with the interests of the Venezuelan people. This is an old trick, often used by dictatorships.\u201d Euronews: \u201cDo you think a political amnesty for some Chavistas would help kick-start a democratic transition and dialogue?\u201d Ram\u00f3n Guillermo Aveledo: \u201cWe have to look at every opportunity politics, rights or diplomacy can offer. We must walk every possible path in order to find a solution. The most important thing is to try to mitigate the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Some people speak foolishly about the fact that a foreign invasion, or even civil war, might solve things. This would only make the situation worse. \u201cUsing force doesn\u2019t solve anything\u201d \u201cUsing force does not solve anything, it only leaves deep wounds. The force which the government is using is the precise cause of the suffering we are currently experiencing. This is why we must explore the possibilities offered by politics and law. If we can get political transition through peaceful means, in the least traumatic way, this would be a major help and highly advantageous.\u201d Euronews: \u201cProfessor Aveledo, thank you.\u201d Ram\u00f3n Guillermo Aveledo: \u201cThank you.\u201d The government refuses to recognise the very existence of political prisoners in Venezuela. Those in jail for political or civil disobedience are accused of terrorism. Representing them in court can be extremely dangerous. Lawyers who defend political opponents can face huge problems in both their private and professional lives. Despite that, the crisis in the country has reached such a level that more and more people are losing their fear. They are prepared to support those who have been put behind bars. Gonzalo Himiob founded Foro Penal, a pool of lawyers and volunteers who represent and provide legal assistance to hundreds of political prisoners. We met him to find out what it\u2019s like for those who\u2019ve been jailed. Exact numbers on how many people are currently in prison because of their activism vary widely, but they include peaceful protesters, critics of the government and opposition politicians. Human Rights Watch says opposition groups in the country have identified more than 600 detainees, arrested and prosecuted arbitrarily. \u201cChavism deflects responsibility\u201d Euronews: \u201cWhat constitutes a political prisoner for you? Does a definition exist?\u201d Gonzalo Himiob, director, Foro Penal Venezolano: \u201cThe first category are those people who are criminalised for what they represent. They are \u201cneutralised\u201d as potential political leaders or actors of social mobilisation. In this group we find the most famous political prisoners, like Leopoldo L\u00f3pez, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, etc. From an individual point of view these people represent a threat to the existing power structure and this is the reason why the government tries to neutralise them. This is the first category. \u201cThe second category are those people, who, as individuals are unknown but are part of something. An institution, for example. They may belong to a specific group which the government wants to get rid of. Such as students, journalists or judges. I would like to mention the case of Mar\u00eda Lourdes Afiuni. She is one of the most symbolic cases. She is under arrest not for what she is as an individual, but for who she belongs to. They are sending a message: if you fight the establishment we will get you. \u201cThe third category are what we call propaganda prisoners. Every time the authorities wish to justify the official position they attack and criminalise some people in order to attack a certain section of society. This is done so as to maintain and strengthen their own propaganda. For instance, when the government claims we are in an economic war, it will arrest traders, or a specific category of trader. This is all done to show that it is the traders who are responsible for the economic crisis and not the government. Chavism deflects its responsibility onto these people. Real estate developers, bankers and currency traders have all been targeted. As have doctors and pharmacists. It has even happened to bakers when the government said there was no more bread because there was a \u201cwar on bread\u2019\u2018. Consequently they arrested a lot of bakers to justify their own narrative, claiming they were the villains. In this way the government avoids taking responsibility for the economic crisis. These are the three categories of prisoner. \u201cPolitical prisoners have the right to escape\u201d Euronews: \u201cThere is a question I have to ask you. All prisoners aspire to freedom. According to your NGO, what is reprehensible for Antonia Ledezma, the former mayor of Caracas, to flee Venezuela? Gonzalo Himiob, director, Foro Penal Venezolano: \u201cListen, in general terms, if you are a political prisoner in custody, and you escape justice without resorting to violence against a person or property, it is not considered a felony in Venezuela. You could say it is \u201caccepted\u201d. Every time this happens though, we are very worried about those who didn\u2019t escape. If you think of political prisoners as hostages, you can imagine that if one hostage escapes, those who will pay the consequences are those left behind, those who didn\u2019t escape. And this is what is happening with people like Leopoldo L\u00f3pez or Daniel Ceballos. Restrictive measures against them have been tightened, they\u2019ve put electronic bracelets on them, they\u2019ve restricted visits, and when things like that happen, we are worried. And it is also more complicated for us as defence lawyers to convince judges to ease measures against our clients who are in prison \u2013 by granting them conditional release for instance. Why? Because they could say, \u201cIf I grant you conditional release, you could escape. That won\u2019t make me look good.\u201d The government wants to use prisoners as a bargaining chip. So things are difficult for us, but I have to say that if you are a prisoner and, above all, a political prisoner, you have the right to try to escape, you have the right to recover freedom.\u201d Euronews: \u201cThank you.\u201d As a lawyer, Gonzalo Himiob suggests we talk to a young woman who spent almost three years in jail for tweeting against Chavism. We cannot take the risk of shooting on the streets, so we meet her in her home to find out how dangerous it is to speak out against those in power. Skarlyn Duarte was just 22 when she was arrested. She spent nearly three years in prison. Her father died while she was in jail and the judge did not let her out to attend his funeral. Today she lives in limbo, waiting for her sentence. She cannot leave the country for risk of being arrested. Her trial was delayed dozens of times, her passport has been confiscated and she is considered an enemy of the state \u2013 what she describes as a Kafkaesque situation. \u201cFreedom is priceless\u201d Euronews: \u201cWhat happened the day you were freed?\u201d Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cI felt I was born again. Freedom is priceless. You don\u2019t know what you\u2019ve got until it\u2019s gone. What I regret most is not being able to say farewell to my father. He fought for me and he died while I was in prison. It was very difficult, I couldn\u2019t be with him.\u201d Euronews: \u201cSo your father died and they did not let you go to his funeral?\u201d Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cYes. I was in prison and my Daddy died. I couldn\u2019t see him, I wasn\u2019t able to say goodbye to him.\u201d Euronews: \u201cCould you tell us what happened to you?\u201d Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cIn 2014, I Tweeted about political personalities and the government didn\u2019t appreciate it. Some time later, about six months later, around 10 officers from the Sebin, the Venezuelan secret service, came to search my home. They had a warrant and searched my home. They didn\u2019t tell me why. I didn\u2019t know why because those Tweets were old. They searched computers, laptops etc, and told me that I had to go with them because they wanted to interrogate me. I left with them at 3.30 pm. They started to interrogate me but I didn\u2019t know why because they hadn\u2019t told me anything. After a while, I understood the reason why I was there, so they started to ask questions, but I denied all the accusations. \u201cNight fell, they told me my parents were waiting for me outside. They asked me tons of questions, I don\u2019t remember what exactly. I denied everything. So they let me go but they told me that they would have to carry on with the investigation. Then I went home. One month later, they rang me at home and told me to go to the police station to pick up some of the equipment they had seized at my home. I thought, \u2018That\u2019s ok, they\u2019ll just give me my stuff back\u2019, so I went. They started to ask me more questions about the Tweets. So I asked them why I was there, whether I was there to get my equipment back, what was happening\u2026 I could see that they didn\u2019t have any intention of returning my equipment . So I understood it was a trap and they wanted to arrest me.\u201d Euronews: \u201cBut what were you accused of?\u201d Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cI was accused of digital espionage, sabotage, as well as incitement to hatred, and insult to public officials. So those were the felonies I was accused of.\u201d Euronews: \u201cWhat sentence did they hand down after all that?\u201d \u201cMy trial was postponed 27 times!\u201d Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cMy trial was postponed 27 times. I never had a preliminary hearing.\u201d Euronews: \u201cBut were you convicted?\u201d Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cNo. Up until today, I keep going to court and they keep scheduling hearings that I have to go to.\u201d Euronews: \u201cCould you show us some pictures of the campaign organised by your friends while you were in prison?\u201d Skarlyn gets out her mobile phone and shows Alberto some photos. Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cOf course, these are some of the pictures of the campaign organised while I was in jail. These pictures helped make my case known to the world.\u201d Euronews: \u201cAs an ordinary citizen, what do you think of the current state of dialogue between the opposition and the government?\u201d \u201cThe government wants to impose its views\u201d Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cIn my opinion, this dialogue is useless because the government wants to impose its position. I don\u2019t think they will reach an agreement. The government wants to impose its views. Things won\u2019t change. It makes no sense to waste words on something that won\u2019t give any results.\u201d Euronews: \u201cSkarlyn Duarte, Thank you.\u201d Skarlyn Duarte, former political prisoner: \u201cThank you.\u201d Plagued by poverty, food shortages and hyper-inflation, Venezuela is deeply a polarised country between a minority government and an overwhelming majority of people demanding change. But it is also a very rich country, sitting on the world\u2019s largest oil reserves \u2013 a hotbed for competing interests \u2013 a time bomb, which not only threatens its people, but the entire region.