Forces them to acknowledge disputed power
By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- The embattled Nicolas Maduro administration has so far released 44 political prisoners, but not before first forcing them to kow-tow before the Constituent Assembly, the supra-Constitutional power some of them are in jail for denouncing as fraudulent.
Tareck William Saab, the Attorney General imposed by the Constituent, promised to free more than 90 political prisoners Saturday, while Constituent chief Delcy Rodriguez said some 80 prisoners would be freed.
"#25Dec 6:00pm This is the list of 44 #PoliticalPrisoners freed (with restrictions) from Dec 23 up until now", tweeted lawyer Alfredo Romero Monday afternoon. Romero is the head of the prisoners' rights NGO "Foro Penal", an entity that drafts the list of Venezuelan political prisoners under Maduro recognized by the Organization of American States and other entities.
Another "Foro Penal" lawyer, Gonzalo Himiob, defined the releases as "bittersweet freedom", in an article he penned Monday for the Run Runes news site.
According to Romero's list, more than 300 political prisoners remain in Maduro's jails, some of them jailed without a trial since 2014.
Prisoners were bused from the national intelligence service SEBIN-operated prison "El Helicoide" to the Foreign Ministry in front of the Constituent, which the opposition, the United States and most countries of the world agree was fraudulently constituted. There they were threatened with community service and forced to admit transgressions before being remanded to house arrest.
None of them was ever tried or formally charged. Not even Alfredo Romero, a Lara state mayor who had Constitutional protection as an elected official.
The proceedings were broadcast live on state television. Venezuela has long maintained it did not have political prisoners, saying there were only "politicians in prison".
Venezuela had few political prisoners before Maduro took over in 2013. That situation soon changed in 2014, when the country experienced a violent cycle of anti-Maduro protests: the National Guard soon rounded up more than 3,000 demonstrators that year.
Killings of demonstrators also became a Maduro habit, first in 2014 and again in 2017. Some 200 demonstrators have been killed since 2014.
With negotiations between the government and the opposition set to resume in January 2018 and after snatching almost all state and city governments in elections the opposition again deemed as fraudulent, Maduro has been trying to get U.S.-imposed sanctions lifted.
All of the prisoners freed will now endure house arrest, a gag order on all statements to the press, an electronic ankle bracelet for monitoring and have to present themselves before a court at least once a month.