Venezuela: Soldier Beats Lawyer, Cracks Head for Not Paying Bribe

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - FEBRUARY 01: Venezuelan soldiers march during a military parade in Caracas, Venezuela on February 1, 2017. (Photo by Carlos Becerra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Carlos Becerra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images, File

A Venezuelan attorney’s beating at the hands of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) this week, filmed by alarmed onlookers, has reportedly resulted in a military tribunal for the lawyer, Venezuelan outlets reported on Thursday.

Eva Leal was reportedly driving home from her office in Barquisimeto, Lara state, on Wednesday when GNB officers stopped her at a checkpoint and accused her of violating the nationwide curfew in place to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. The incident reportedly occurred at 3:20 p.m. local time. Officers demanded that she pay a “fine” for violating the curfew. Leal reportedly ceded that she was out past curfew but, as a lawyer, demanded to know when Lara or the federal government had imposed any fines for being out past curfew.

There is no evidence the GNB soldiers issued a formal ticket for the penalty or asked for a more formal way to pay the “fine” than cash.

The situation turned tense when — suspecting there was no fine and the officers were bribing her, which is a common occurrence in Venezuela — Leal took out her mobile phone and began filming the exchange. Police appear to have pulled Leal out of her car and began beating her in the street, attracting an outraged crowd.

In the video circulating on social media, a female GNB officer can be seen pressing Leal into the ground and bashing her head. She also appears to put pressure on her neck, triggering comparisons among Venezuelans between the incident and the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd at the hands of police. Members of the crowd in the video can be heard shouting, among other exclamations, “They cracked her head,” “You are killing her,” “Let her go, what are you doing, what the fuck?”

A voice that appears to belong to the GNB officer shouts, “get these people off of me!”

Alfredo Ramos, a former political prisoner, shared a photo of the incident in which the arresting officer presses down on Leal’s head with the question, “does this photo remind you of anything?” — an apparent reference to George Floyd.

Photos circulating of Leal immediately following the incident show her visibly cracked forehead and her shirt covered in blood. The GNB reportedly took her to a local hospital as the injury necessitated stitches, then proceeded to process her case.

Local journalists have identified the GNB officer in the footage as María de los Ángeles Palmera; she does not appear to be facing any discipline for her excessive use of force. No evidence has yet surfaced that Leal was armed or otherwise a threat to Palmera.

On Thursday, Leal’s relatives revealed that she would be facing a military tribunal for her alleged disrespect towards the GNB. They also shared a video of Leal being transferred to a local military base for legal processing, both proof that she is alive and that she may soon face another gross human rights violation.

Venezuela has been trying civilian dissidents in military courts since at least 2017 when socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro began using the courts to charge civilians participating in peaceful protests with war crimes and “terrorism.” As Maduro controls the military — considered a hotbed of cocaine trafficking activity — most of those given a military trial were found guilty despite the outrageous lack of evidence against them. That year was one of the last in which Maduro faced regular, ongoing peaceful protests demanding he step down, which have since slowed dramatically as the Venezuelan socialist opposition has lost the trust of the people.

Using military courts to prosecute civilian crimes is both a violation of the Venezuelan constitution and international law, particularly the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“The increasing use of military courts to try civilians is proof of the resolute determination of the Venezuelan authorities to stifle the increasing protests and terrorize anyone who even considers expressing their opinions,” Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said at the time.

After extensive pressure on Venezuela from human rights advocates since her arrest, Leal reportedly received probation with required appearances before the law on Thursday.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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