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Venezuelan court indicts human rights activists for terrorism

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By Reuters
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CARACAS – A Venezuelan court indicted Javier Tarazona, director of NGO FundaRedes, and two other activists for terrorism and other crimes, three days after the group held a news conference in Caracas alleging links between members of the government and illegal armed groups from Colombia, their lawyer said.

FundaRedes has been the most active entity documenting and denouncing abuses by irregular Colombian armed groups in border areas and their illegal trafficking and mining activities.

Tarazona, his brother, Jose Rafael Tarazona, Omar de Dios Garcia, and human rights activist Yhonny Romero were arrested Friday in the northwestern Falcon state after reporting that their team had been harassed by intelligence service officials and unidentified men had been waiting for them at their hotel, FundaRedes said on Twitter.

Romero was released hours later.

The three other men were charged with instigation of hatred, treason and terrorism. The court ordered they must remain in jail in Caracas.

“There are now 45 days for the prosecutor’s office to investigate and clarify the facts,” Alonso Medina Roa, lawyer for the activists, told Reuters.

“Venezuelans have the right to inform, free of intimidation and arbitrary detention as retaliation,” U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela James Story, wrote on Twitter late on Friday, calling for the activists’ release.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza responded on Twitter: “A democratic State, which respects International Law, does not promote attacks and conspiracies through alleged NGOs, in order to generate violence in sovereign countries.”

The European Union also expressed its concern about the activists’ detention on Twitter, as did Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who wrote, “Reporting the presence of guerrillas, kidnapping of soldiers and violation of human rights is not a crime.”

Several Venezuelan rights groups and activists, as well as staff from international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, have also called for their release.

Venezuela’s information ministry and prosecutor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

FundaRedes was the first organization in March to denounce fighting between the Venezuelan military and dissident groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the southern Apure state on the border with Colombia.

The group has also denounced extrajudicial executions of civilians at the hands of Venezuelan police and the displacement of hundreds in Apure to Colombia due to the fighting.

This week Tarazona was at the headquarters of the prosecutor’s office in Caracas to request that the alleged links between government officials, both military and civilian, and irregular armed groups, be investigated.