Venezuela: HRF condemns torture of students and calls for their inmediate release

Human Rights Foundation
( NEW YORK. —The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) strongly condemns the torture of students Marco Aurelio Coello and Christian Holdack by agents of the National Bolivarian Police of Venezuela. Coello and Holdack have been held in arbitrary detention since February 12, 2014, for their participation in student demonstrations on Youth Day in Caracas. They are accused by the Venezuelan government of perpetrating the crimes that opposition leader and prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López is charged with organizing. No evidence has been presented against Coello and Holdack.

“The use of torture and other systematic violations of the rights of Venezuelan students show the world the true colors of the Bolivarian ‘revolution’,” said Garry Kasparov, chairman of HRF. “Any act of torture against a human being is deplorable, but the world must understand the gravity of the situation in Venezuela, where students are being tortured for demonstrating against an authoritarian government that is moving closer to dictatorship with each passing day,” added Kasparov.

Coello’s defense attorney and members of his family described in detail to HRF the methods used by police agents to force the 18-year-old to confess to crimes he did not commit. Among other acts of torture, Coello was stripped down, wrapped in a rubber mat, and beaten repeatedly for hours with blunt objects, including fire extinguishers, baseball bats, and golf clubs. Coello received electric shocks on numerous occasions and he was threatened with execution several times while a gun was held to his head. He was also doused in gasoline as agents armed with lighters threatened to burn him alive. Christian Holdack was subjected to similar methods of torture.

The Venezuelan government is accusing Coello and Holdack of perpetrating acts of violence that took place during a demonstration near Carabobo Park—including the burning of police cars and damage to a government office building. López is currently awaiting trial and is accused of organizing these same acts. All three individuals face charges of incitement to commit a crime, conspiracy, arson, and damages to public property. Coello and Holdack were part of a group of 16 students arrested on February 12, during the student protests that were the first of numerous massive protests against the regime of Nicolás Maduro. Six young men were jailed (known as the "6 from 12F" in the media and on social networks), but four were released under measures alternative to pre-trial detention. Coello and Holdack remain imprisoned as of today.

Recently, Coello’s family members have reported to the media that his mental health has suffered as a result of the physical and psychological trauma he has endured during his arrest and torture. According to two psychiatric evaluations performed by private and public institutions, Coello shows clear signs of acute post-traumatic stress disorder, including serious depression and suicide risk.

“The Venezuelan government knows that if they let these innocent young men go, they would also have to let Leopoldo López go, so they prefer to keep them in prison and torture them to extract false confessions. This must stop. The judge must release these students immediately in light of the complete lack of evidence against them,” said Kasparov. “Our hearts are with the families of these innocent young men and we will continue to document and denounce the government’s abuses,” he added.

The preliminary hearing for Coello, Holdack, and López has been postponed on two occasions and is now set for today. Coello’s defense informed HRF of the existence of important evidence that exonerates both Coello and Holdack of any criminal liability and, further, would allow police to identify those actually responsible for the burning of police cars and the damage to the government office building. However, as of now, both the prosecution and the two courts assigned to this case have chosen to ignore such evidence.

“Even though the Venezuelan government has denounced the American Convention on Human Rights, and even if it were to denounce every other treaty on the subject, the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment is a peremptory norm of international law, from which no state can escape,” said Javier El-Hage, legal director of HRF. “This practice has been systematically used against a sector of Venezuelan civil society because of their political opinions, which makes it a crime against humanity punishable under the Rome Statute,” added El-Hage.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Contact: Jamie Hancock, (212) 246-8486,


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