Venezuela’s Catholic Church demanded justice for the regime’s tortured political prisoners on Thursday amid reports of inmates protesting within the Heliocide prison facility in Caracas.
Venezuelan outlet RunRunes reported that “the Justice and Peace Commission of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV) showed up at 11 p.m. on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) to verify the status of the detainees in The Helicoide at the request of the relatives of the prisoners who were protesting from early hours of the day, until late hours of the morning of this Thursday, May 17.”
In a statement, the Church called on Venezuelan authorities “to respect the lives of those who are under the responsibility of Venezuelan State institutions, and to respect the Human Rights of everyone to achieve a peaceful solution to the problem.”
It is not the first time that the Catholic Church has clashed with Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime, condemning his turning of the country into a totalitarian dictatorship where human rights abuses are commonplace.
Protests within the Helicoide began against prison authorities who political dissidents accused of torture and human rights violations. Footage posted online appeared to show prisoners congregating in hallways outside of their cells, filming videos showing the dire state of the prison.
Many prominent figures in Venezuelan politics are believed to be involved with the protests, including the former mayor of western San Cristóbal Daniel Ceballos, student opposition leader Lorent Saleh, and General Ángel Vivas, who was detained for disobeying orders from the former president Hugo Chávez.
A photo of one of the prisoners, dissident Gregory Sanabria, surfaced on social media Thursday, showing severe injuries from a beating. Fellow inmates allege that guards paid non-political prisoners to carry out the attack.
Mírate en esa cara. Es tu compatriota, Gregory Sanabria estudiante ingeniería.3 años preso en Helicoide.Esta es la cara de la tragedia nuestra pic.twitter.com/EeCG74qZhq
— Diego E. Arria (@Diego_Arria) May 17, 2018
Another notable prisoner is the American Joshua Holt, imprisoned on false weapons charges, who uploaded a video on Facebook begging for assistance from the U.S. government as things got violent around him.
“Help me please united states, how long do I have to suffer unjustly in this place?” he wrote on Facebook. “They want to kill me and paint the walls with my blood. I am a political prisoner, and they won’t let me free. They won’t give me a true trial.”
Speaking to CNN, Ceballos insisted that authorities had lost control and that prisoners were now in control of the facility.
“Inside the prison, all the prisoners are in control. And at that this moment, the people from the government who have approached us have not offered any solutions, none,” he said.