On May 10, Pedro Jaimes Criollo saw three men in plainclothes emerge from a car without plates in front of his home as he was arriving. They identified themselves as members of the Bolivarian Service of National Intelligence (SEBIN), and detained Jaimes without a warrant.
His alleged crime? Tweeting the president’s travel plans, it seems.
Frantic about his whereabouts, Jaimes’ family visited the two SEBIN headquarters in Caracas the day he was detained; agents denied he was there. But later that night, Jaimes called his family and confirmed he was being held in one of the facilities. His family saw him briefly in the court building on May 11 and 12, but they were not allowed to attend the hearing that finally took place on May 12. The public defender assigned to Jaimes’ case told the family that he was facing charges linked to his tweeting. The following day, a report in the pro-government outlet Telesur said the prosecution was related to a tweet in which Jaimes mentioned the presidential plane’s route.
Neither his family nor lawyers from the Venezuelan nongovernmental group Espacio Público, who are trying to get the court to recognize them as Jaimes’ attorneys, have heard from or seen him for nearly a month, despite repeated attempts to visit him in SEBIN headquarters. SEBIN agents have never confirmed that Jaimes is being held there. The lawyers have presented a habeas corpus request before the courts, but are still waiting for a decision.
Human Rights Watch has documented a series of cases over the past year in which Venezuelan security forces, including intelligence services, have detained opponents or critics and denied information about their whereabouts for periods of up to several weeks. In one of them, the detainee was held for more than 40 days and brutally tortured, including with electric shocks, before being released. Espacio Público says they have recorded several cases of people detained and prosecuted for things they said on Twitter in recent years.
When security forces detain someone and refuse to reveal the person’s whereabouts, it’s considered an enforced disappearance under international law. This may well be the case of Jaimes.
International experts, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have also reported on these arrests, including several cases where people were held incommunicado, or detained in undisclosed locations. The High Commissioner has said that these cases may constitute enforced disappearances. An Organization of American States-appointed panel of experts described the practice in a recent report submitted to the International Criminal Court for its preliminary examination of the situation in Venezuela.
Venezuelan authorities should immediately provide information about Jaimes’ whereabouts, ensure he is not subject to physical or psychological torture, and allow his lawyers to have proper access to the judicial file. And they should remember that that the impunity Venezuelan officials have so far enjoyed for serious human rights violations, including possible enforced disappearances, won’t last forever.