Venezuela: Number of Political Prisoners Increases After Maduro Promises Release

Venezuelan prisons are said to be overpopulated and inmates are malnourished

As of Tuesday, around 357 political dissidents remain imprisoned by Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime in Venezuela, according to the legal aid group Foro Penal.

After his fraudulent election victory last week, Maduro pledged to release more political prisoners, giving many families hope their loved ones could be among them. The NGO found that, rather than releasing prisoners, the number of prisoners of conscience has grown.

“At this time, political prisoners have not been released. Just 22 last Friday,” the group’s Executive director Alfredo Romero revealed at a press conference on Tuesday. “On the other hand, they have increased the number of arrests. With two new more people incarcerated yesterday, there are now 357 political prisoners as of today.”

One of those released was the American citizen Joshua Holt, a Mormon missionary imprisoned in 2016 on false weapons charges. He returned to the United States last Saturday, where he met with President Donald Trump before receiving medical care and returning to his home state of Utah.

Yet many of those still imprisoned are experiencing worse prison conditions than ever. Human rights organizations and prisoner’s families revealed this week that authorities at the Heliocide facility in Caracas are preventing them from speaking with their lawyers as well as blocking the entry of food, water, and clean clothes.

Inmates at the facility staged a peaceful revolt this month against prison authorities who they accused of multiple human rights violations. Footage uploaded online from inside the prison showed inmates freely walking outside of their cells and protesting their appalling living conditions.

Some of the facility’s most high profile prisoners include the former mayor of western San Cristóbal Daniel Ceballos, student opposition leader Lorent Saleh, and General Ángel Vivas, a military figure imprisoned for ignoring orders from former president Hugo Chávez.

In April, another report by Foro Penal found that Maduro’s regime has overseen a 120-percent increase in the number of political prisoners over the past year, the majority of whom are government dissidents as the country moves towards a totalitarian dictatorship where genuine political opposition is effectively banned or outlawed.

Some political prisoners have previously testified to the use of torture by prison guards, including the use of electroshock, starvation, and humiliation rituals. Last year, a joint report by Foro Penal and Human Rights Watch claimed the government had fed inmates dishes mixing pasta with human excrement.

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