Nicolás Maduro’s socialist dictatorship in Venezuela has overseen a 120 percent increase in the number of political prisoners in the past year, according to the legal aid group Foro Penal.
There are currently 233 political prisoners across Venezuela, mainly on crimes of “treason,” instigating anti-government protests, or the alleged use of violence or intimidation against the country’s security forces. This is a 120-percent increase from this time last year, where there were around 100 people imprisoned.
According to Foro Penal director Alfredo Romero, the government has instituted an “open door” prison policy, liberating some group of prisoners while imprisoning even more.
Nearly all of those imprisoned are dissidents against the Maduro regime, which has over the past year transformed the country into a totalitarian dictatorship where political dissent is outlawed.
Venezuelan political prisoners have previously testified to the use of torturous methods by prison authorities, which include the use of electroshock, starvation, and nude humiliation. Last year, a joint report by Foro Penal and Human Rights Watch also accused the government of feeding prisoners dishes such as “pasta with feces.”
As a result, many of the country’s elected politicians and officials—such as the rightful Mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledzema, the former Attorney General Luisa Ortega, and Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations Diego Arria—have exiled themselves to avoid political repression or imprisonment.
Attending the UN Human Rights Council last September, Arria testified to the use of “torture, sex crimes, and systematic murder of unarmed civilians” by the government that he said amounted to “crimes against humanity” by a tyranny run by “drug traffickers and criminals.”
Venezuela’s most recognized political prisoner is the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was imprisoned in 2014 on charges of organizing mass street protests against the government. He is currently living under house arrest.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Venezuelans have also fled the country to escape the high levels of political repression, as well as in search of a better life amid the country’s ongoing economic meltdown.
The high numbers political prisoners is inextricably linked to the rise of political activism as Venezuela experiences the worst humanitarian crisis in its history, with millions of people now starving and without living resources such as medicine and toiletries.
The humanitarian crisis is mainly a result of nearly two decades of socialist rule that saw excessive government spending and economic mismanagement that has led to wild levels of inflation close to 8000 percent that has rendered the country’s Bolivar currency effectively worthless.
According to a recent Reuters analysis, hyperinflation has also left the country’s once powerful banks loaded with worthless cash, worth a total of just $40 million.